This is the seventh and final blog in the series on history. My next blog will return to the science series. In this blog, I discuss America as a Polycultural nation.
In 2020, when I conceived of the history blog series, I saw the history blogs concluding by identifying how and why some of the most dynamic aspects of America are due to Polyculturalism. I also saw America only moving forward as a positive united nation if it saw itself as a Polycultural society because the three traditional ways of describing America’s culture as: 1) assimilationism; 2) color-blindness; and 3) multiculturism have led to divisiveness. This was due, in part, to none of these narratives celebrating the dynamic innovations that come as diverse cultures interact to create new traditions and dynamic institutions.
With assimilationism, it is assumed that minority groups will let go of their distinctive traditions and melt into a shared, mainstream culture. However, given that around 2045, America will be a nation of minorities, – meaning no group, to include whites, will constitute a majority of the population – what culture should everyone melt into? Color-blindness leads to people either: 1) arguing that despite their differences, all groups share a common humanity, or 2) people should be seen primarily as individuals and set aside their group identities. While this might sound good, America’s history shows this approach does not work in a way that leads to a viable, dynamic, and united society. The third approach, multiculturism, urges us to recognize and appreciate the distinctness of cultural groups. Unfortunately, this is sometimes responsible for deepening social divisions by instilling a sense that groups are fundamentally dissimilar, these dissimilarities are ongoing, and group members are defined by their differences.
Polyculturalism, on the other hand, has a history, as this blog will show, of producing successful, dynamic, and unifying innovations. Polyculturalism sees cultures influencing one another over time and sees cultural contact and borrowing as the norm not the exception. This is in part because in a polycultural society no group has to give up or surrender their identity. And, all groups can benefit from group interactions that lead to fusions of various cultural attributes to form new traditions, customs, and institutions.
A Polycultural society consists of cross-cultural interactions, that may be hidden but can forge new cultural traditions. America is a society that has been built, nurtured, and driven by the energy that arises from the interactions and contributions of the many ethnic, religious, and racial groups and cultures that have been fusing and exchanging ideas and practices in a Polycultural manner since its start. This the 7th blog in the history blog series, identifies some, but not all, of the polycultural aspects of America.
An example of cross-cultural fusing and exchanging is the origin of the American musical theater. Nancy Joseph in a 2019 article entitled “The Surprising History of Musical Theater”, writes about a course called “The Broadway Musical: How Immigrants, Queers, Jews, and African Americans Created America’s Signature Art Form.” In the article, she notes how David Armstrong, an affiliate instructor in the UW School of Drama identifies the start of musical theater occurring when George M. Cohan, a writer, director, producer, performer and grandson of an Irish immigrant couple, launched musical theater as a distinct genre in the early 1900s. Armstrong also notes that around the same time, Jewish immigrants arrived from Eastern Europe and African Americans moved to New York from the South, further developing the art form.
In addition to the American musical, the polycultural activities cited in this blog are Agriculture, Military tactics to win the revolutionary war, Federal form of government, American English, American Music, American Dance, and the Martial Arts (like Kung Fu).
Around thirty foods used by Americans are a result of the work and discoveries of Native American farmers and hunters. This is comprised of eleven vegetables, nine fruits, four grains, five nuts and seeds, two meats, two spices, and a sugar. According to the USDA, 60% of the world’s present food supply comes from the American Indians’ agriculture, primarily consisting of corn and the so-called “Irish” potatoes.
Native American farmers began cultivating what has become corn around 10,000 years ago. The development of corn as a food product useable by humans began when Native American farmers in northern Guatemala and southern Mexico selectively began to breed teosinthe, a wild grass, for many generations to enlarge the ear and develop kernels that were soft enough for humans to eat. Once they created the corn plant, their invention spread throughout the Western Hemisphere.
Today in the United States of America, due in large part to the original Thanksgiving feast in 1621 which was a gathering of English colonists and local Native American Indians, Thanksgiving and Christmas foods tend to include turkey, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, baked beans, and mashed potatoes, all foods that originated from Native Americans.
Military tactics to win the revolutionary war
Native American Warriors were highly skilled soldiers, masters of woodland warfare and experts at conducting “La Petite Guerre.” Their culture and strategy was professional, intelligent, resourceful, and functional. American Native Warriors embraced asymmetrical warfare, fought battles in the frontier woodlands using the terrain and natural features as cover, and used swift light infantry and lightning-fast guerrilla tactics. Native American War Parties would strike quickly, used terrain to their advantage, and drew their enemies into dangerous spaces. Once the adversary was at a tactical disadvantage, ambush and counter attack were launched. Native American irregular warfare tactics were not lost on British officer Major Robert Rogers. Rogers saw the genius of Native American Guerrilla warfare and developed a doctrine, which focused on smaller, light infantry operations. Rogers’ Ranger manual and the foundation laid by him was vital in the American Revolution for the Americans and for the United States military and special operations units around the world.
Federal form of government
The Iroquois League was both a political and a spiritual organization, and its origins were explained through an elaborate story in the Iroquois mythos that anthropologists and historians label the Deganawidah Epic. The proper name for the political-spiritual Iroquois League was the Great League of Peace and Power, or the Haudenosaunee, the Iroquois word meaning longhouse. The Iroquois nation, had as their system of government one in which power was shared between the center, the federal government, and the states, which were the smaller government units.
The Iroquois League was the inspiration behind the United States Constitution. In fact, the League has sometimes been called the ‘Oldest Living Participatory Democracy on Earth.’ The American and European colonists adopted it as a model for the federal representative democracy.
English is an excellent language for America as a polycultural nation because of its extensive borrowing from other languages. The process of English borrowing and incorporating words from other languages, sometimes referred to as loanwords, has been going on for close to a thousand years. The vocabulary of Modern English is approximately a quarter Germanic (Old English, Scandinavian, Dutch, German) and two-thirds Italic or Romance (especially Latin, French, Spanish, Italian), with copious importations from Greek in science and technology and considerable borrowings from more than 300 other languages. This has led some to call the English language a “loaned language.”
About 80% of English consists of loan words. And, in addition to the above languages, Japanese, Arabic, Portuguese, Sanskrit, Russian, Maori, Hindi, Hebrew, Persian, Malay, Urdu, Irish, Afrikaans, Yiddish, Chinese, Turkish, Norwegian, Zulu, Swahili, and over a dozen Native American languages have contributed words to the English language.
While some of the Native American words are about animals, like skunk; or plants, like hickory; or dwellings, like Tepee; many Native American words are omnipresent on any map of an area – from the names of states, cities, and towns to the names of rivers, lakes, mountains, and deserts. More specifically, twenty-six of the fifty state names are of Native American origin.
As noted in my last blog about Black Contributions to the American Dream, African-American influences on American music became part of the foundation of a new American musical culture that mixed African traditions with those of Europe and the Americas. Work songs, dance tunes, and religious music – and the syncopated, swung, remixed, rocked, and rapped music that descended from it – became the lingua franca of American music, influencing Americans of all racial and ethnic backgrounds.
As noted in my last blog about Black Contributions to the American Dream, African slaves brought their dances to the Americas and Caribbean Islands. Dance styles of hundreds of black ethnic groups merged with white dances helping African slaves keep their cultural traditions alive. For example, Tap combined elements of African-influenced shuffle dances, English clog dances, and Irish jigs. African dances included foot shuffling, hip and torso movement, and early Stepping. Minstrel shows brought black dance to large audiences in the 1800s. In 1891, The Creole Show, on Broadway, introduced The Cakewalk, the first American dance created by blacks to become popular with whites. Other Black-influenced dance trends were the Charleston, the Lindy Hop, the Jitterbug, and the Twist. Black musical theater, derived from minstrel shows popularized black dance traditions and performers. Current dance definitions have broadened to include urban black dance forms of break dancing and hip-hop.
Martial Arts (like Kung Fu)
After a bloody fight to suppress the Japanese Imperial forces on Okinawa, hundreds of Marines took karate back to the U.S. Since then, karate has enjoyed a massive amount of support in America with the first documented dojo being in Phoenix, Arizona in 1945. In the 1950’s at least seven other disciplines of karate made their way to the States and in the 1960’s even more styles of the art migrated across the Pacific Ocean to America.
In the 1960’s Southern California became the hotbed of karate activity when it was introduced by Tsutomu Ohshima. Ohshima was a fifth-degree black belt who formalized the judging system of karate tournaments. Since then, karate has made its way to the big and little screen along with Kung Fu.
As the above examples show, America, from its inception, has been a Polycultural society consisting of sometimes-hidden cross-cultural interactions that forge contemporary cultural traditions that make it stronger and more dynamic. And, as the aforementioned examples show, part of America’s strength and uniqueness, as a nation, is its Polycultural origins and nature. Hence, it is this Polycultural nature that if recognized, celebrated, and built upon can allow America to be a genuine example of how the planet can become a true global community.
My next blog will refocus on the Science behind the SELF Empowerment ProgramTM.