A conversation with Larri Mazon, Director of the Fairfield University Multicultural Center. Larri spoke about the price of admission for becoming accepted as an American. |
What happens to European Americans? Through assimilation, they lose touch with their histories. All European Americans go through assimilation. They're prone to take in negative aspects. Either actively or silently, they learn of white supremacy. Immigrants learn to drop their identity and go WASP.
If multiculturalism is our goal, then we (Mazon and the interviewers) need to say, "Here's some information that better represents Irish history. The Irish have been anesthetized by America. Some of our early background is ugly. We've forgotten it.
Now we need to ask ourselves how we were similar before we got to America? What did we have in common with other oppressed people? When history has been cut, then we have to supply what has been missing.
What is America? Who defines that?
We should not be afraid of being ethnic Americans. Last summer, I took a trip to Northern Ireland with a multicultural group of students from Fairfield University.The students are part of a multicultural task force at the University.
The students were surprised that the Northern Irish were at least as knowledgeable about African American history as Americans. They saw pictures of Martin Luther King on the classroom walls there. The students wondered why American students don't know as much about African American history as some of the Irish do.
In the 1998 St. Patrick's Day parade, in Northern Ireland, Protestants and Catholics marched together. Northern Irish Catholic groups think of the British as the Ku Klux Klan.
The question of difference between Catholic and Protestants was visible to all who visited.
They could see the difference in neighborhoods, language, and descriptions, where one picks up a cab, how one describes a place or a situation.
I'm always aware of being black. It's part of my daily self-consciousness. I evaluate daily encounters in American society as a black man. For example, I was standing in a line at the bank and the teller was rude to me. My first reaction was to wonder if she was being rude because I was black. Only when I saw her being just as rude to a white customer did I consider that she was simply rude. My sensitivity to my color is a socially imposed filter because I can't be certain of my acceptance.
A few days ago, I had some pain in my leg so I called the doctor's office to speak with him. The doctor didn't know me and his first question to me was, "Is the leg red and swollen at the site of the pain?" When he saw me in his office, there was no more talk about redness. I think that the use of color based language is a significant example of white dominance in American society.
I don't think we should eliminate racial identity because identity by color can't be eliminated. I think Americans benefit from hyphenated identity, like Irish American, Spanish American. The more Americans accept hyphenated identity, the greater the opportunity to see American as a racially mixed culture. Eliminating ethnicity could lead to a heightened split between those who are white and those who are black.
- The interview with Larri Mazon took place at Fairfield University 0n 12/9/98. Permission to reproduce material from the interview was graciously given by Larri Mazon.