Do You Embrace the Hyphens?

National Honor SocietyThis has been a busy month. My book came out in print. I had modest success at a writing competition at a writer’s conference. My son turned sixteen. Got his official driver’s licence and went out on his own. He was inducted into National Honor’s Society. My daughter, as a freshman, qualified for the conference match in tennis. And while my family has been celebrating our milestones, there have been two things dominating the news, or at least the news that I follow:

  1. The government shutdown.
  2. Columbus Day not being a legitimate national holiday.

The shutdown was of course more important to me. Thankfully the situation is, at least temporarily, resolved. I spent most of the shutdown time wondering why our elected officials think their opinions are worth more than ours and why it’s okay for them not to balance a budget when we have to. Mostly I wondered whether we’re going to reelect these same people to office again just because we recognize their names on the ballots. There’s nothing I can do about it now, though, so I’ll focus on the other issue.

The one dealing with my nationality.

So many people say we shouldn’t hyphenate. We should be Americans and leave it at that. I know I just gave my opinion on the subject, but as it’s still (for a few days) National Italian American Heritage Month, I want to talk about it again.

I recently read a fantastic news article in The Washington Times about Columbus Day and nationalities. While I can’t reprint it here for copyright reasons, I encourage you to read it (Dust-up over Redskins name a good time to examine Columbus Day). In it, I learned that Columbus Day wasn’t originally celebrated as a whites-triumphing-over-natives holiday, but rather, it celebrated people who weren’t considered white at all in a country that was, at the time, predominantly white.

You see, Italians were considered non-white, or dark-skinned, and in fact still are to some people. I have been called a dago, been treated differently than my fair-haired husband (who is of Italian descent) and children, and heard horror stories from when my family came to America. Of course I hyphenate. I’m proud of how far we’ve come. And I look forward to where we’re going.

There’s nothing wrong with hyphens and slashes. There’s a reason they exist. It’s to make communication easier. My kids are athletes and they are quite smart. They’re scholar-athletes. I write but I also take care of my home. I’m a writer/homemaker. (If I’m ever a NYTBSA, I’ll hire a housekeeper and happily drop that slash.) In my family, I’m a wife/mother. And I love that slash. Wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. And yes, I’m Italian-American. I live in America. I live by and honor this country’s values and freedoms (even when our elected officials are making a mess of things). But it’s my Italian heritage that makes me who I am. That hyphen makes me me.

So embrace the hyphens and slashes. They define us in ways nothing else can.

How do you define yourself? What are your hyphens and slashes?

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7 thoughts on “Do You Embrace the Hyphens?

  1. I’ve always referred to myself as American. Mainly because I’m a mixed bag of nationalities: Scotch/Irish/German/Dutch. My ancestors made the move to America so long ago that I’ve never closely identified with one part of my heritage other than American. I guess you could call me a daughter/sister and aunt extraordinaire. Poet/author. Cousin/friend. As for the government…I get angry when I start discussing it so I’ll keep my mouth shut.

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    • My dad is German, Irish, Scotch, and Swedish (my mom thinks there might be some Dutch in there somewhere, but who knows?), and I was never too close with his side of the family anyway, so I pretty much only claim those roots on Oktoberfest and St. Patrick’s Day. The point is, you do embrace your slashes. We never just consider ourselves just ONE thing. And that’s what makes us all special. It’s the mix of many things that makes us unique individuals. Kind of a paradox, but an important principle nonetheless.

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  2. Love the post. I am an Italian-American and proud of it. I am also a wife/mother and like you, would not change that slash for anything. And in a perfect world, I also consider myself a writer/editor. As for congress . . . they are a topic for another day. However, I do maintain a balanced budget.

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    • I’m also a writer/editor. And a Pennsylvanian/transplant to Arkansas. And a… well, you get the idea. We’re lots of things. I embrace my hyphens and slashes. Glad you do too.

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