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Nordamerikanische Bundesländer the Beautiful
June 12, 2013 7:25 AM   Subscribe

What would a balkanized United States look like if it was divided along ethnic lines? (original map) Alternate divisions here and here.
posted by seemoreglass (112 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
Like I suspected, I am an American living among Germans.
posted by QueerAngel28 at 7:28 AM on June 12, 2013


Heh, Queens alone would have to subdivided dozens of times.
posted by jonmc at 7:28 AM on June 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


I see we've located the Real Americans.
posted by DU at 7:28 AM on June 12, 2013 [10 favorites]


Ancestry is a funny thing. I grew up being told that I was a grab bag of western European, mostly German, but with some bits and pieces of just about everything else thrown in.

And then my mom got all into the ancestry.com thing, and discovered that my dad's mom was 100% Swiss and that significant portions of both my mom and dad's families came from the same part of Wales. Turns out we're only a bit German. The family was shocked. But we've all been in America for a bazillion years so of course none of it matters.

Anyway, my point is, I wonder how much this map would change if it weren't based on "commonly reported" but instead on real ancestral research.
posted by phunniemee at 7:35 AM on June 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


One of the things that makes the U.S. a fascinating country is that it's almost impossible to do this project in any meaningful way. Depending on the scaling / granularity / % cutoff points, you get quite different results; on top of that add the fact that few Americans are of a single ethnic identity any more.

I thought it was amusing that the article's author said, "The map does represent the great imagination an alternate historian can possess." I was thinking the map represents why a lot of alternate history scenarios are hopelessly naive and simplistic.
posted by aught at 7:36 AM on June 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Heilige fick. On behalf of my people, sauerbraten for everyone!
posted by FelliniBlank at 7:36 AM on June 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah--what ethnicity are the ones whose ancestry is just identified as "American" and have their ancestors actually been in America longer than the ones identified as "African American"? Shouldn't they be called "United States of European American" or something to be consistent? Does the nation of origin only wash away after a few generations if your ancestors came from a nation on the European or Asian continents? And if your ancestors were actually here on the North American continent first, you're from India? How does any of this make sense again?
posted by saulgoodman at 7:37 AM on June 12, 2013


Phunniemee - I had a similar experience playing around with an ancestry.com trial period. The whole "we're German and Irish with a little English thrown in" went out the window pretty quickly. My conservative dad was particularly troubled that there were French ancestors in there; I guess he's praying the "froo froo quiche and beret" genes are not well-expressed in his precious grandchildren.
posted by aught at 7:41 AM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


And if your ancestors were actually here on the North American continent first, you're from India? a tyrannosaur
posted by shakespeherian at 7:42 AM on June 12, 2013 [25 favorites]


DU: "I see we've located the Real Americans."

I've been out of literary criticism for a while, so I'm never sure any more -- but is it irony that the area labelled United States of America is the same area that tried to bail 150 years ago? Or is it just annoying?
posted by MCMikeNamara at 7:43 AM on June 12, 2013 [11 favorites]


What would a balkanized United States look like if it was divided along ethnic lines?

Dude, don't go giving the Republicans any ideas.
posted by Aizkolari at 7:45 AM on June 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


The first map is neat, but it's based on "self-reported ethnicity"... which leaves a lot of room for interpretation. But I love the Nine Nations of North America breakdown. That's pretty much how I view North America as a whole.
posted by molecicco at 7:46 AM on June 12, 2013


Projects like this frequently tell you more about the mapper than the thing being mapped.
posted by aramaic at 7:47 AM on June 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


Reminds me of this map of "physical homologues" of the United States (i.e., northern Japan is similar, in broad considerations of biome and geology, to New England; Ukraine is similar to Minnesota; etc).
posted by Iridic at 7:47 AM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


And if your ancestors were actually here on the North American continent first, you're from India? a tyrannosaur

Aaaaaactually most of North America was covered in an epeiric sea that pretty well divided the land between east and west so YOUR ANCESTOR WAS PROBABLY PLANKTON. Or kelp.



Yeah--what ethnicity are the ones whose ancestry is just identified as "American"

This is all self reported. So it's people saying, basically, "I don't know what I am but I certainly ain't some froo froo quiche eater, better just put American."
posted by phunniemee at 7:48 AM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wow, I didn't even realize that it was self-reported. Which makes my earlier comment about the former CSA even more hilarious. To me, at least.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 7:50 AM on June 12, 2013


Yeah--what ethnicity are the ones whose ancestry is just identified as "American"

It's pretty much just the South that does this in large numbers. I've always assumed it means "white Southerner of unidentified mongrel European stock" probably mostly Scots-Irish, but they don't know. For reasons that are pretty obvious historically, in the South it mostly matters if you're black or white; people didn't preserve the white ethnic divisions that they did in other parts of the country, so people don't really know.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:52 AM on June 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


Wow...nobody from Scotland ever settled the US...ever.
posted by rocket88 at 7:54 AM on June 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


Every instance of self-reported "american" on these maps is accompanied, in my mind, by a surly, suspicious glare.
posted by elizardbits at 8:00 AM on June 12, 2013 [22 favorites]


I think it's probably pretty generous to say the South reports their ethnicity as "American" because they don't know.
posted by DU at 8:00 AM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Iridic, your link looks broken to me but the idea is really interesting. A quick googlling did not bring back whatever you linked to; could you repost an alternate link?
posted by Aizkolari at 8:01 AM on June 12, 2013


Also I am vexed by the absence of a JewVille. Can we at least have Ocean Parkway?
posted by elizardbits at 8:02 AM on June 12, 2013 [13 favorites]


I'm just puzzled (and a bit awed) by the logic of this taxonomy as represented on the map:
Indian American - Long term settlers of the North American continent who were here before any settlers from Europe, Asia or Africa arrived and whose ancestors did not come from India.

African American - Long term settlers of North America whose ancestors came from anywhere on the continent of Africa (or Haiti or Jamaica).

American American - Long term settlers of North America whose ancestors came from anywhere on the continent of Europe or North Asia.
Makes perfect sense as a way to organize people into meaningful groups, dunnit?
posted by saulgoodman at 8:06 AM on June 12, 2013


I can't believe they gave New York to the Italians!
posted by Mister_A at 8:06 AM on June 12, 2013


I'm amused that Metafilter is kicking up the "America's 10 Worst Prisons" post as a related link.

Having lived in the "real American" south (which, by the map, would probably be constantly turfwarring for space with African America), the worst prison designation seems amazingly prescient.
posted by phunniemee at 8:07 AM on June 12, 2013


The last link is based on a great book called American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America which changed how I see things. Not taken too literal on a personal level, but the ingrained cultures that exist in these places in institutions and values are real. If nothing else you learn America has never been homogenous or acting in concert rather big regional blocks that form alliances with/against other regions over control of Congress and federal resources.
posted by stbalbach at 8:11 AM on June 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


I can't believe they gave New York to the Italians!

This can only be solved by a finger-snappy dance battle.
posted by elizardbits at 8:16 AM on June 12, 2013 [8 favorites]


I think it's probably pretty generous to say the South reports their ethnicity as "American" because they don't know.

Why, it's almost as if you didn't read everything I said.

I said "[f]or reasons that are pretty obvious historically, in the South it mostly matters if you're black or white" and that "American" generally is the answer of whites. That means that for the people answering "American" they're making a statement that they're white, and inherent in that is the assumption that "American" and "white" are synonymous, which is obviously problematic in the way that is, I think, what you're trying to get at by saying my explanation was "generous."

There's a related issue, which is that the South didn't preserve white ethnic divisions the way other parts of the country did (largely, I'm guessing because of slavery/Jim Crow making being "white" the defining characteristic of any white person's identity), so people in the South don't really have a sense of what their ethnic background is. This isn't necessarily the reason people put "American" on the census, but it does make it harder for them to put anything else.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:17 AM on June 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


Ancestry is a funny thing. I grew up being told that I was a grab bag of western European, mostly German, but with some bits and pieces of just about everything else thrown in.

And then my mom got all into the ancestry.com thing, and discovered that my dad's mom was 100% Swiss and that significant portions of both my mom and dad's families came from the same part of Wales.


Yep, similar story in my family. Our ethnic background is a lot less interesting then we were brought up to believe.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:17 AM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't like the American Nations map, as I think it does a lot of unnecessary lumping. But I do appreciate that both it and the Nine Nations Of North America both essentially recognize that below Lake Okechobee, you share no characteristics with the rest of the Continental US.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:22 AM on June 12, 2013


I definitely would fall into the "American" category, but generally because I'm one more fine example of the American mongrel from that section of the map. The "American" swathe also covers Appalachia, so not everyone in it absolutely were part of the former Confederate States. Much of the region, however, was settled centuries ago in a mixture of German, Scot-Irish (who came primarily from the lower area of Scotland and upper area of England - the border lands), and English. If one thing happened to all these immigrants is that much of their cultural heritage was stripped away in the process of colonizing and advancing on the frontier. I can definitely point to German heritage (immigrants in the early to mid 1700s) and English (immigrants in the late 1600s), but there is absolutely nothing German or English culturally about those sides of the family other than their name and this is a fact that goes back generations. Likewise, I can point to an Irish line of ancestry, but there is nothing culturally Irish about them.

While thanks to genealogy research I can point to origins in this country and that country and I can say that I have some Irish or some English (etc etc...remember, mutt!), I can't with any honesty claim that I am Irish or that I am German, nor more than really my grandparents could or even their grandparents. Thus, I'm the product of my country, an American - and I think that's why some individuals in that part of the country answer the way they do. I think the commentary on the "white" and "black" aspects of racial identification is probably also accurate.

I would be willing to wager that most people who can readily identify to one cultural/ethnic/national background can also point to an immigrant ancestor who arrived no earlier than the 1800s. As someone who has run into a wall of answerless history in determining my direct paternal line, I find myself jealous of someone who can tell me, "Oh, my great-grandpa got off the boat in 1902!" I can't tell you where my surname came from, I even took a DNA test to try and offer clues, but it's a generic one, and one of the most common in the United States. Based off the name I label myself with on a daily basis, I can't offer any answer other than American.

So...in short, some people might say American because they have no better idea of what to answer.
posted by Atreides at 8:30 AM on June 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


I suspect that a lot of the "American Americans" are like my Dad's family. When I was doing some historical research, I was asking him about his ethnic background and he said, "If they had wanted anyone to know where they came from, they wouldn't have come to Texas".

I was able to do some tracking and found that, indeed, the Texas branch of the family was founded by a man fleeing from the law in the mid 1800's, after killing his brother-in-law and abandoning a wife and two children. The family tree also contains some Native American and Mexican American members. All of this is still stoutly denied by some people.
posted by pbrim at 8:36 AM on June 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


Utahshire is killing me for some reason.
posted by boo_radley at 8:39 AM on June 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'd have no idea what to say other than "European American". I've got bits of English, Welsh, Irish, Scots-Irish, French, German, Swiss, Danish and who knows what else in my ethnic background.
posted by octothorpe at 8:39 AM on June 12, 2013


Utahshire is killing me for some reason.

I know, I'm imagining Mormons with hairy little feets eating second breakfast.
posted by elizardbits at 8:41 AM on June 12, 2013 [15 favorites]


I know, I'm imagining Mormons with hairy little feets eating second breakfast.

I got stuck in Utah for a week once and I can confirm that this is exactly what goes on there.
posted by phunniemee at 8:42 AM on June 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


There's a related issue, which is that the South didn't preserve white ethnic divisions the way other parts of the country did

Yeah, I've mostly lived in the south* and one of the surprises about moving up to Yankeeland was that there are Just. So. Many. kinds of white people.

I still can't get the eastern European names on the first try more than half the time.

*When I was in the US, anyway.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:43 AM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Amish dress like hobbits. Maybe we could send them out there?
posted by Mister_A at 8:43 AM on June 12, 2013


So, Mexico is going back to looking like Mexico!
posted by vacapinta at 8:44 AM on June 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


A truly Balkanized United States would have much more burek.

btw burek has been recently sent to space
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:47 AM on June 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


Which federally funded agency must one apply to in order to have burek launched directly into one's mouth?
posted by elizardbits at 8:50 AM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Some of those maps dovetail nicely with the ancient coastline described in this post.
posted by TedW at 8:51 AM on June 12, 2013


> South didn't preserve white ethnic divisions the way other parts of the country did

Except that all the white people have a Cherokee princess great-grandmother.
posted by desuetude at 8:52 AM on June 12, 2013 [15 favorites]


Missing Belgium and Luxembourg for NorthEast Wisconsin (Door County/Kewaunee County)
posted by symbioid at 8:52 AM on June 12, 2013


Which federally funded agency must one apply to in order to have burek launched directly into one's mouth?

strangely enough, the federal maritime commission;

it's in their organic statute.

if you appear at their headquarters dressed as a baby bird,

and if you cheep, "o feed me, o feed me, for a bird cannot suckle,"

chairman mario cordero is legally obligated to stop whatever he is doing

and fling burek into your mouth.

he will also be mad at you.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:00 AM on June 12, 2013 [11 favorites]


The best I can find is that in the 1600s my mother's lineage came over (Captain Barney) in Massachusetts (Bristol). My dad's side came over with the big Scots-Irish pilgrimage in the 1700s into Pennsylvania and down to Virginia/N. Carolina. Lots of English and Scottish and Irish (and some Welsh). I don't like thinking of myself as "American" because I try to go beyond borders, but the fact is I am a product of my local environs (even if much of that has been influenced by many other cultures and factors).
posted by symbioid at 9:00 AM on June 12, 2013


Huh. It needs a little region for "Oklahoma dirt farmers with traces of Cherokee and Choctaw".
posted by PuppyCat at 9:07 AM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Except that all the white people have a Cherokee princess great-grandmother.

Not that they would have admitted to it at the time that "she" was still within anyone's living memory. Eh, humans.

I'm actually pretty curious how much of the French Canadians here have significant aboriginal ancestry. It was enough, already, to create it's own ethnic sub group, the Metis, already.
posted by Phalene at 9:08 AM on June 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yay, I can finally live among people of "Other" ethnicity, which which I have so very much in common.

PS "Asian" isn't really an ethnicity either so that wouldn't help
posted by sweetkid at 9:09 AM on June 12, 2013


That Nine Nations of North America map is seriously offensive. No way would Toronto ever take second place to Detroit. Also, we're not rust belt - we're sprawling financial sector.
posted by jb at 9:09 AM on June 12, 2013


I have always thought of the Metis are very distinct from the Quebecois and other French Canadians. They seem to identify more strongly with other aboriginal groups. And a fair number do not have French ancestry, but mixed Native and Scottish ancestry.
posted by jb at 9:12 AM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Scot-Irish (who came primarily from the lower area of Scotland and upper area of England - the border lands)

Scotch-Irish is usually used to refer to protestant Scots who settled in Ulster in the 17th century, and then emigrated to the colonies in the 18th century. By this point, they were culturally distinct from other Scots, but did not consider themselves as simply Irish, thus the combined name. (Similarly, Anglo-Irish to refer to descendants of English Protestants who settled in Scotland (and other people who converted to Protestantism); famous Anglo-Irish people include Jonathan Swift and Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington.)
posted by jb at 9:18 AM on June 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


It'd be interesting to compare maps based on people's oral history vs. genealogical research vs. DNA testing. (In our family, the genealogical research was fun and interesting and frustrating, but the DNA research was all that plus mind-blowing!)

As a someone raised in Virginia (right on the border of "the foundry" and "dixie" and the border of Tidewater and Appalachia, according to the alternate maps), I think the ethnic division are there, they're just far more subtle. With a few exceptions, Southerners don't have communities like Little *CityName* or *Nationality* Town, but that cultural knowledge is there. People knew if their ancestors were primary German/Hessian or Scots-Irish or English (or Huguenot or French), and there were traditions (in cooking most notably, but also in language, tradition, world perspective, and even religion) that persisted through the generations.

There's a lot tied up in identifying your background as "American" or "White" ranging from having lost the Civil War and rebuilding the mythic image of the South to modern political feelings on topics ranging from immigration to civil rights to insider/outsider dynamics to straight-up racism. All that, plus ignorance, broken chains of oral tradition, and a familial memory that sometimes doesn't go back more than a generation or two.
posted by julen at 9:22 AM on June 12, 2013


Most of my family came to New England in the great immigrations of the early 20th century. It shocked my paternal grandfather, who had always considered himself descended from Lithuanians, when my brother, who was researching the family genealogy, raised the possibility that he was in fact Polish. The Poles and Lithuanians of Worcester had hated each other: There was only so much work during the Depression.

My brother later learned that the Polish/Lithuanian distinction was complicated at the time, so we all went back to claiming Lithuanian descent.

None of this matters as much anymore. I grew up in a town pretty evenly divided between people descended from Irish and Italian people, but the divide only affected the roots of the local family trees.

The Nine Nations map's exclusion of Mexico weirds me out. Surely Mexico could have been divided into generalizations, too?
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 9:31 AM on June 12, 2013


On my mom's side of the family: they enlisted professional genealogical researching services and traced their own lineage (fortunately, we have a very rare family surname, "Brelöhr" on that side) which turned out to be French Huguenot and otherwise basically viking (Swede). On dad's side: Possibly some pre-WWII Jewish, and then pure Southern aristocracy (one of the great-great-grandpas was a revolutionary war hero, another a prominent pro-secession agitator and confederate) going all the way back to European aristocracy. That side of the family isn't doing so well these days, since the civil war era, reduced to trying to reclaim land the family once held that's since become Manhattan's business district and harassing the Dutch government to hand over millions it claims was supposed to be held in trust for the family.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:32 AM on June 12, 2013


So...in short, some people might say American because they have no better idea of what to answer.

Yes. Which ancestor do I favor? The apparently protestant Irish indentured servant who landed in Plymouth Colony in the 17th century? The Revolutionary War Veteran? The possibly Jewish unnamed father of my bastard grandparent? The German-Americans who anglicized their names and language except for "gesundheit" and "spatzie" in the middle of the 19th century, who are also largely unknown except by surname because of a big-ass family feud? The ancestor who ran away from Prussian conscription to become a cowboy? (That is the only "old country" oral history my family claims.)

I don't know that I'd call myself generically "American." I would describe myself as "White," not as a point of pride, but as a historical problem. I don't identify as "German-American" or "Irish-American" because, to me, those connote membership in communities that maintained distinct cultural identities through waves of immigration.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:34 AM on June 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Scotch-Irish is usually used to refer to protestant Scots who settled in Ulster in the 17th century, and then emigrated to the colonies in the 18th century.


Yah, as it's pointed out in the Origins section of your link, they generally arrived in Ulster after leaving the places I described.

It'd be interesting to compare maps based on people's oral history vs. genealogical research vs. DNA testing. (In our family, the genealogical research was fun and interesting and frustrating, but the DNA research was all that plus mind-blowing!)

That would be very interesting. I attempted a DNA testing, but rather than have my mind blown, it just pretty much tipped the ratios more one way and less another way, in my mixed up heritage.

It is very easy for oral history to misguide someone on their ancestry. The best example I have in my own family is my grandfather, who left an oral history on tape before he passed. In it, he claims that a gentleman named Defrieze was his grandfather, which lead me to think that it might be a Dutch or some other nearby country of origin for that line of the family. Yet, when I began doing research on the documentation, this story did not match up with what I was learning. I faced the fact that either my research was all wrong or my grandfather was wrong. Thanks to a little Census snooping, I discovered that it was indeed my grandfather who was wrong but with an asterisk. His grandfather was a man named Defrieze, but he had married a widow with two children and from those children of the prior marriage we were descended. He apparently had never learned about the prior marriage or simply did not think to mention that it was a grandfather by marriage when passing down the family history. The story on the true line was one from England in the 1600s.

So I absolutely agree that it'd be super intriguing to see maps built on oral tradition, genealogical research, and DNA testing.
posted by Atreides at 9:34 AM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


None of this matters as much anymore. I grew up in a town pretty evenly divided between people descended from Irish and Italian people, but the divide only affected the roots of the local family trees.

Self-quoting just to add that in some places, it matters a lot. But I didn't grow up in those places, and I haven't seen that kind of ethnic tension myself.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 9:35 AM on June 12, 2013


I think others are right on with the observation that in the south, relative "whiteness" is really more the focus of identity politics, not so much actual ethnicity or national origin.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:37 AM on June 12, 2013


Oh my God, you're all Germans!! No wonder that Dornier post got so many favourites. Right, straight on with the WWII 1-ball jokes then.
posted by marienbad at 9:44 AM on June 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


Do mention the war?
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 9:46 AM on June 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


The first map is neat, but it's based on "self-reported ethnicity"... which leaves a lot of room for interpretation.
I understand that one of the big problems with "self-reported ethnicity" is that unmarked ethnicities are reported far less than marked ones. That is, it isn't particularly interesting to be of Welsh, English, or Scottish descent, because they're the cultural and historical "default". It is far more marked to have some Irish, Italian, German, or whatever forebears, even if they're the minority of somebody's ancestry.

For example, the absolute number of US people claiming any English ancestry dropped between 1990 and 2000, and kept static between 2000 and 2010. All the while the total population grew by 60 million total, only about half of which was through immigration. Folk reporting their ancestry have been actively discounting English ancestry in favor of others. The only two big groups reporting English ancestry are Mormons, for whom that ancestry is typically both more recent and more meaningful, and some New Englanders (who may well regard it as having special status).

This is pretty normal though, as even people in England are likely to overreport marked ancestries such as Irish.
posted by Jehan at 9:49 AM on June 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


My family immigrated to the US from southern Italy and Sicily about a century ago. In addition to knowing the hows and whens and wheres, we're in touch with some of my mom's cousins back in the homeland, and my mom studies Italian (my grandparents all spoke antiquated dialects), and we're trying to get dual citizenship. All of which is exceptionally bizarre to my boyfriend, who is 3/4 "white, Anglo, I don't know, there's some Scottish in there, probably somebody owned slaves" and 1/4 "Ashkenazi, but my grandmother isn't really interested in talking about it."

No way would Toronto ever take second place to Detroit.
And if you think New Yorkers would ever willingly cede fealty to Detroit, me and my Italian forebears have some choice bridges we'd like to sell you.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 9:53 AM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


None of this matters as much anymore. I grew up in a town pretty evenly divided between people descended from Irish and Italian people, but the divide only affected the roots of the local family trees.

Could that be because both groups were primarily Catholic? Between Europeans (and among Euro-North Americans), religion has often been more divisive than nationality.
posted by jb at 9:53 AM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I fear the Midlands nation would not long survive, stretched out as it is like a gerrymandered congressional district.
posted by Cash4Lead at 9:58 AM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


No way would Toronto ever take second place to Detroit.

The capitals are supposed to represent the region (see Boston over NYC). As you pointed out, Toronto doesn't have much of a manufacturing history.
posted by wikipedia brown boy detective at 10:00 AM on June 12, 2013


>None of this matters as much anymore. I grew up in a town pretty evenly divided between people descended from Irish and Italian people, but the divide only affected the roots of the local family trees.

Could that be because both groups were primarily Catholic? Between Europeans (and among Euro-North Americans), religion has often been more divisive than nationality.


I don't think so. Like Rustic Etruscan pointed out later, it depends where you are. My dad grew up in the Chicago suburbs in Irish-dominated Catholic schools and in talking to him it's pretty clear that it as an issue that his family wasn't Irish. (Hell, this came up at least once when I was in school (I went to public schools). The 'not Irish' contingent was just bigger and more varied than it was 40 years earlier.)
posted by hoyland at 10:18 AM on June 12, 2013


I guess another reason why I wouldn't identify myself as ethnically German or Irish is that, at least to me, feels very much like saying, "Hey, about that extended history of military expansion and segregation in labor, education, and law that shapes my life? POTATO FAMINE, REVOLUTION, BRATWURST, BEER, CHANGING NAMES DURING WWI!" (Probably inspired by a family history of elders who derailed discussion of race by talking about 18th century indentured servants.)
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 10:37 AM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Could that be because both groups were primarily Catholic? Between Europeans (and among Euro-North Americans), religion has often been more divisive than nationality.

Actually, one of the things that always struck me as strangest about Updike's novels was their relentless fussing over the various denominations of Protestant Christianity. In my town, in my time, even the Protestant/Catholic difference didn't matter that much.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 10:41 AM on June 12, 2013


Admittedly, my mother was raised Catholic and my father Congregationalist. They compromised and my branch of the family became Episcopals.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 10:43 AM on June 12, 2013


By ancestry, I'm half Swedish-Lutheran, and half Litvak-Jew. For the last census I wanted to find the smallest area that contained both, and settled on reporting my ethnicity as "Baltic". I wonder there are any other self-reported Balts from 2010.

Of course I've got the usual American sprinkling of other strains. Recently my mother discovered that the Czech ancestor in her line wasn't Moravian, but in fact Bohemian! This distinction was apparently very important on the Great Plains during the 1800s.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:46 AM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Are there really so few Asians in the United States that we don't even show up on the map? You'd think we would at least be able to take San Francisco.
posted by jamaro at 10:54 AM on June 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Reminds me of this map of "physical homologues" of the United States (i.e., northern Japan is similar, in broad considerations of biome and geology, to New England; Ukraine is similar to Minnesota; etc).

This is why geoguessr is so hard sometimes.
posted by desjardins at 11:04 AM on June 12, 2013


Are there really so few Asians in the United States that we don't even show up on the map? You'd think we would at least be able to take San Francisco.

Asian Americans are just under 5% of the population in the United States. SF is roughly 1/3 Asian American.
posted by Justinian at 11:14 AM on June 12, 2013


What I really like about the first link is that it maintains the distinction that practically no one in the US outside the region know about: northern New Mexico is not Mexican, the ancestry goes directly to Spain (but in the 1600s!), not Mexican immigration into the US. It's noticeably culturally distinct from the rest of the Hispanic population in the southwest. All the other maps, though, lump this all together.

There are, of course, Hispanics elsewhere in the southwest, from Texas to California, who have the same kind of very old direct-from-Spain lineage, but it's only in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado that this is true for the majority of Hispanics there.

It may seem like an odd cultural distinction to make because even though the ancestry goes from this region directly to Spain, there was still a bunch of intermarrying with native populations, just as in Mexico, and Central and South America. And Nuevo Mexico was part of Mexico, after all. However, for a very long time it was relatively isolated from Mexico City and Santa Fe is very, very old for North America, the relative isolation caused it to develop a self-aware cultural identity distinct from the rest of colonial Spain and when the Mexican revolution happened, the allegiance in Nuevo Mexico was primarily toward Spain. There's not really a sense of cultural affinity to Mexico, per se, in this culture.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:14 AM on June 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


Asian Americans are just under 5% of the population in the United States

Yeah but Finnish-Americans are .2% of the US population and they got part of Michigan.
posted by jamaro at 11:23 AM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Great comment, Ivan Fyodorovich. Of course you have also helped to bring out the fact that Mexican isn't really an ethnicity. It is a range of people from almost pure Spanish Europeans to Native Americans. That is not including the other waves of French, German, Lebanese, Asian immigrants and the large Jewish populations.

Of course, if they accept "American" as an ethnicity then I guess my objection doesn't stand.
posted by vacapinta at 11:27 AM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Except that all the white people have a Cherokee princess great-grandmother.

This is most definitely what I grew up being told (well, without the princess part), without any specific support other than pointing out high cheekbones and whatnot. When I later found out this was one of those things that other people held as suspect, it was hard, because my personal acceptance of it only came from what people had passed down. I'd only believed it because my parents told me it was true. It's not like there were any inherited records of anyone before my grandparents, given that they were all poor farmers and turpentiners for generations. Based on checking through census records an genealogy sites, I know there's no evidence for that ancestry, and we're mostly Scots-Irish and English.

More recently I caught an episode of African American Lives on PBS where they stated that the belief of Native American ancestry is also common in the African American community, but research suggests that it's hardly ever the case there either. So the claim to that ancestry sometimes reaches across groups, which makes it even more interesting to me.

Regarding the claim of American, I think I'd probably be likely to say that, maybe with some mention of the research done above. But to foremost state Irish or English feels odd, because there isn't really any connection there. My family doesn't cook something like someone did back in some previous country. The names aren't passed down from those traditions, nor are there legends of past ancestors from far-away places. I think that makes it trickier to claim a place when you're missing those connections.
posted by bizzyb at 11:39 AM on June 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


One additional note on the African American Lives show -- the way they looked at it was through DNA testing, which of course might not pick up everything and isn't a perfect technique, especially for this use. My main interest when looking at this was just that the belief of shared ancestry was perhaps more common than the actual incidence might be.
posted by bizzyb at 11:42 AM on June 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's definitely true that people seems especially keen to claim some Native American heritage. I wonder if it's an ethnic guilt thing. My grandfather actually was half Cherokee (his mom was full-blooded). But he later turned out to be technically only my step-grandfather. My grandmother once confided in me that back when they had started seeing each other, he was considered a mulatto and was even called by racial slurs reserved for Americans of African descent nowadays. By the time I knew him, he was universally accepted as a white Southern cracker in society, and probably would have just self-identified as "American."
posted by saulgoodman at 11:48 AM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Except that all the white people have a Cherokee princess great-grandmother.

Nah. However - we have reason to believe that my waspoid wife's g-g-grandmother was brought from the Marquesas Islands to England as the bride of a 19th century missionary. Really must get the DNA testing done.
posted by BWA at 11:49 AM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


That line between "Americans" and "Germans" is all too real to me, married as I am to an Ohioan family. The tension between Ohioans and Appalachians is unreal.
posted by ocschwar at 12:10 PM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


; I guess he's praying the "froo froo quiche and beret" genes are not well-expressed in his precious grandchildren.

OMG, there is no better specimen of good ol' boy sensibility than a southern Frenchman. As in, none. Yes, the car up on blocks in the yard has to be a Citroen, but then again, that's the last remaining line of cars you can seriously work on in your backyard nowadays.
posted by ocschwar at 12:13 PM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


"It's definitely true that people seems especially keen to claim some Native American heritage. I wonder if it's an ethnic guilt thing."

I think it's a "noble savage" thing and my completely uninformed guess is that it's mostly a post-60s phenomenon where, as you go back in time, this reverses and people hid it rather than exaggerate it.

In the reverse of this trope, my sister, our mother and her two sisters, her mother and grandmother all have these high, large, noticeable cheekbones that look really Native American to me but there's no native ancestry that anyone knows about. I wasn't really aware of this until a partner of mine was looking at a group photo and asked about it and, since then, I find it very noticeable.

I don't share those features; I look very much like my father and his family (which are half norwegian; his mother's parents were immigrants). I don't really know how I answer the ethnicity question. I think I say that I'm one-quarter norwegian-american — which does matter because this was pretty important to my grandmother and my dad's siblings growing up so it's part of our family identity — and the rest is mostly English and Welsh.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:20 PM on June 12, 2013


vacapinta: Of course, if they accept "American" as an ethnicity then I guess my objection doesn't stand.

I think it all depends on how you define ethnicity in that cognitive place where heredity runs smack up against nationalism, institutionalized racism, and social constructivism. The only problems I have with "American" are that it puts other groups in the position of being "less American" and glosses over the fact that White supremacy was a central defining feature of that particular vaguely European creole.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 12:34 PM on June 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


That's a bit harsh, partly because of some family history. But my view is that since White American national identity developed in parallel with (and in some cases, prior to) modern national identity elsewhere in the world, that we might as well talk about it as a historical fact.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 1:24 PM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


We would talk about a United Statinized Balkan peninsula.
posted by klue at 1:31 PM on June 12, 2013


I'm German-American and I really had no idea there were so many of us. I think I would have guessed 5%.

Also -- reporting here from the heart of Nordamerikanische Bundeslander, I can tell you there is no WAY the Norwegians and Swedes are going to be on board with this plan.
posted by gerstle at 1:45 PM on June 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh man, my mom got really into genealogy research lately and when I asked how it was going she pretty much summed up our ancestors as petty Scottish thieves who married thier cousins and the Normans who kidnapped them. ( my best friend has the best ancestor stories cause they have lines like " she was minor French nobility sold as a bride to Hati in a or-revolution family firewall - all daughters must go!")
posted by The Whelk at 1:52 PM on June 12, 2013


( also I labored under the idea that we where somewhat Italian but nope, that was just growing up in New Jersey, yes the blue-eyed, red-beard barrel chested kid who freckles like hell is Atlantic-facing northern European. Utterly shocking.)
posted by The Whelk at 1:53 PM on June 12, 2013


Also -- reporting here from the heart of Nordamerikanische Bundeslander, I can tell you there is no WAY the Norwegians and Swedes are going to be on board with this plan.

In a rare bit of Scandinavian unity, I would like to suggest that the Norwegian-Americans, Swedish-Americans, Danish-Americans, and American-Icelanders (there are few) be consolidated so that we can outnumber the Germans in certain counties and get more of the Midwest.

I've decided that culture, not blood quantum, is what matters. I'm probably mostly English and Irish (that's what the researchers on both sides of the family have found), but neither ancestory mattered much to my family when I was growing up. We didn't have any particular foods or cultural traditions from either country and no one told stories about our ancestors back in England or Ireland. I'm much less Norwegian or Dutch, on a blood quantum basis, but grew up eating Norwegian goodies at holidays, having my shoe filled on December 6th, cross-country skiing, and hearing about Norway and the Netherlands.

English ancestory in the U.S. is often far enough back that the family stories have been lost. And the food and cutlure of English immigrants weren't sufficiently distinct to be maintained in the U.S. I also think the lack of a distinct language made a big difference.
posted by Area Man at 2:52 PM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


America also revolted against the English, which probably plays a minor role in how we view our ancestry; after the Revolutionary War, many Americans stopped thinking of themselves as English, and being invaded 21 years later by England helped drive the difference. Folks descended from Revolutionary-era Americans think of their ancestors as the American patriots, not necessarily as the English immigrants fleeing religious persecution, looking for new opportunities, wanting a redo, or escaping assorted trials.

(On a side note, I can get behind forming a Scandinavian-American block; my bones have been forged by lutefisk and I know elves are devilish little bastards who can not be trusted. The roughly 35% of my ancestry that is English has merely given me a fondness for twice-baked toast and a propensity for weepy period dramas.)
posted by julen at 3:16 PM on June 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


though there have been ethnic-centric secessionist groups in American history like the Republic of Lakotah,
Can you secede if you were there first?

And if you think New Yorkers would ever willingly cede fealty to Detroit...


See, this is why there have been 42 Pennsic wars.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:51 PM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Asian Americans are just under 5% of the population in the United States. SF is roughly 1/3 Asian American.

Yes, but who ends up as the largest ethnic group depends on how the bigger categories split up.

I think they just ignored San Francisco, though I can't see the county-by-county map properly. If I read the ACS data correctly, 175,000 people reporting their ethnicity as Chinese and 65,000 people reporting themselves as being of Irish descent. Similarly, Alameda county has 112,000 people reporting German descent and 148,000 reporting themselves as Chinese.
posted by hoyland at 4:14 PM on June 12, 2013


How presidential elections are impacted by a 100 million year old coastline

Previously.
posted by homunculus at 5:18 PM on June 12, 2013


And the food and cutlure of English immigrants weren't sufficiently distinct to be maintained in the U.S. I also think the lack of a distinct language made a big difference.
Fish cannot see water.
posted by Jehan at 6:35 PM on June 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yes, though I think there is an additional point with the language. My wife's family still has people who speak Norwegian after 6 generations. Keeping that language has been an act of will and has helped them define themselves. That's not an option for the descendants of English immigrants and settlers.
posted by Area Man at 6:58 PM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Awesome! Burek in Space is the name of my new Turbofolk band!

No seriously, where do these maps leave Melungeons?
This is an American ethnic group thought by many to be of Balkan or possiably Turkic origin.

Not Melungeon myself, but I do have traceable Balkan ancestry, and I know plenty of other Americans who's e ancestors arrived a century or better back who have Balkan ancestry.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 11:41 PM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


No seriously, where do these maps leave Melungeons?

In the places where they exist, they are still a pretty small minority. On maps like these, they exist as much as those claiming American Indian ancestry in the same regions.

In interesting factoid I re-discovered (my step-grandmother had told me this before), I have one family line named Stiltner. The Stiltners are actually german, but when the first individual arrived from purportedly Dresden, he or his son (I can't recall which) eventually changed their name to Stiltner from Stigler. Thus, in that family, there already was a push to drop the German background within the first generation.

I also realized that I'm related to myself AGAIN through my mother's line. THANK YOU APPALACHIA.

In a talk with my mom about the Stiltners, the family lore (which had dropped everything German) did still talk about their arrival as the first (white) settlers of Buchanan County, Virginia, allegedly first living inside a hollow tree (told to her by her father). I found it a neat example of where an "American" identity had replaced the German identity of the family. No one cared or was able to pass on legends of life in Germany, but frontier tales still survived around two centuries later.

Yes, though I think there is an additional point with the language. My wife's family still has people who speak Norwegian after 6 generations.

And this blows my mind. How does the familial Norwegian compare to that spoken in Norway today?
posted by Atreides at 6:49 AM on June 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've been told that when my wife's grandmother uses the Norwegian she spoke growing up on the family farm in Wisconsin it sounds odd and old-fashioned to people from Norway.

My wife learned some of her Norwegian from her grandmother, but also went to Norwegian language immersion camp and studied some in Oslo. She's far from fluent, but I believe the Norwegian she speaks sounds modern. My kids attended a Norwegian language pre-school and will likely be sent to language immersion camp when they are older. So, the family has adapted.
posted by Area Man at 8:49 AM on June 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


"It's definitely true that people seems especially keen to claim some Native American heritage. I wonder if it's an ethnic guilt thing."

and

I think it's a "noble savage" thing and my completely uninformed guess is that it's mostly a post-60s phenomenon where, as you go back in time, this reverses and people hid it rather than exaggerate it.

Agreed to both. And I'm not saying that no white southerners have Native American heritage; some most certainly do! But in the cliché of fancifully claiming Indian blood, it is important that the alleged token Native American ancestor be at least a couple of generations removed from anyone's actual living memory. No-one in the family is old enough to know a family member who is old enough to have met the alleged Cherokee grandma. This phenomenon goes back farther than the 60s, but I'm not sure just how far back it goes, actually.

I've most often heard it used to insert an insinuation of "specialness" among folks where everyone's family comes from similar long-ago Scots-Irish settlers without any extant juicy family stories of wealthy or infamous ancestors.

It can also be a pre-emptive "safer" explanation for variations of skin tone/physical features within a family to guard against suspicions of black or foreign blood. Honestly, there is plenty such variation possible even without any non-white ancestors, but there remains a fear of whispering.
posted by desuetude at 9:03 AM on June 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


It can also be a pre-emptive "safer" explanation for variations of skin tone/physical features within a family to guard against suspicions of black or foreign blood. Honestly, there is plenty such variation possible even without any non-white ancestors, but there remains a fear of whispering.

I think it's more this and the Noble Savage thing, than some form of avoiding a guilt. I think it can also be in part individuals/families wanting to further prove a connection to the land/region that their families have inhabited for generations. It's another card to throw down when saying, "My family has been here forever, we even have Indian(s) in the tree!" Particularly for Southerners, attachment to the land can be a big thing, and one can symbolically bring that into the very bloodline of the family with the claim that the blood of the original inhabitants does indeed flow in theirs.

My mother's side of the family has its own "Cherokee" in the form of my great-great-grandmother. She was born in 1864 either in the mountains of Southwestern Virginia or in eastern Kentucky, well past the time of any significant Cherokee presence in the region (minus the reservation in North Carolina). My personal belief is that she or the family chose to declare her Cherokee to avoid the likely truth that her dark features were African American.
posted by Atreides at 9:36 AM on June 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


On the German American side, the mythical Cherokee ancestor is attractive because it's evidence that the family had the mindset of the 1848er Germans. I.e. the right kind of German.
posted by ocschwar at 11:02 AM on June 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Atreides: I also realized that I'm related to myself AGAIN through my mother's line. THANK YOU APPALACHIA.

I have New England to thank for 3 ways my parents are cousins (8, 9, 10 times, once or twice removed). And then they are each their own cousins going back 6-9 generations, so I'm pretty much my favorite cousin.
posted by julen at 11:06 AM on June 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Amusingly, in a perverse sort of way, I have a friend who actually is part Native American (as in he is active in his tribe), but he's half-hispanic and so many people claim to be part Native that no one believes him, until they realize that he spends several months every year helping plan a pow-wow.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 12:02 PM on June 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


My wife's family still has people who speak Norwegian after 6 generations.

My father is 5th generation American and grew up speaking German at home. In fact, the school in his town taught in German until WWII.

This is something I've always loved about the Midwest, the little enclaves of very concentrated national identities. (Or maybe this is true of rural America in general? The Midwest is the only place I've ever spent any time in small farming towns. Anyway, I really enjoy it.)
posted by gerstle at 8:10 PM on June 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


My father is 5th generation American and grew up speaking German at home. In fact, the school in his town taught in German until WWII.

Kind of like Lawrence Welk!
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:43 AM on June 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is something I've always loved about the Midwest, the little enclaves of very concentrated national identities. (Or maybe this is true of rural America in general? The Midwest is the only place I've ever spent any time in small farming towns. Anyway, I really enjoy it.)

There's a whole Texas German dialect, but with few speakers left. There are probably some Czech speakers in Texas, too. (It's mildly amusing to drive along I-10 and play 'Who founded this town?' because there are a lot of towns with really German or really Czech names.) I want to say that there are some German speakers in Washington, but they may all be Hutterites, whose language use is going to be subject to different pressures.

Maine has a couple towns with francophone majorities, despite attempts to suppress French until relatively recently. Though they've been there for centuries--they're the people who managed not to get expelled after the French and Indian War, I think. Parts of Louisiana obviously have a significant francophone minority as well.
posted by hoyland at 6:12 AM on June 14, 2013


Amusingly, in a perverse sort of way, I have a friend who actually is part Native American (as in he is active in his tribe), but he's half-hispanic and so many people claim to be part Native that no one believes him, until they realize that he spends several months every year helping plan a pow-wow.

These sorts of things always confuse me a bit. Mainly because Native Americans range across modern political boundaries. The Apache for example ranged from what is now the SW US to Northern Mexico. If you're part Apache-north-of-the-political-border than you are part Native American. If you are part Apache-south-of-the-political-border, then you are, well, Mexican.

Of course the political boundary is important because there is a subsequent difference in how each country treated them. But the difference is not really an ethnic/genetic difference but a cultural one.

I am fascinated by this personally. My Indian paternal grandfather came from a heavy Purepecha region. Recently, exploring family history even more it appears that his family was probably from a now non-existent tribe called the Tecos who had fled from farther north and arrived into Purepecha territory. Where did they come from and why? There were all these movements and migrations, all this history, most now lost to us.
posted by vacapinta at 6:53 AM on June 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Me: ...this map of "physical homologues" of the United States (i.e., northern Japan is similar, in broad considerations of biome and geology, to New England; Ukraine is similar to Minnesota; etc).

Aizkolari: Iridic, your link looks broken to me but the idea is really interesting...could you repost an alternate link?

Ergh, sorry. My fault for directly linking to the image. The brief spike in traffic must have activated protective borking measures. The link's active again, but for the sake of posterity, here's the article in which it appears:

Essay on Aleksandar Hemon's The Lazarus Project (with "Physical Homologue" map of the United States)
posted by Iridic at 10:19 AM on June 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


Thanks for adding this bit by Aleksandrr Hemon. He has done a good job of describing his experience.
He is a tremendous writer.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 11:04 AM on June 29, 2013


A friend of mine in the camel business in Texas has Czech speaking relatives. The Czech language is pretty close to Bosnian. I can halfway read it, and sort of talk with Czech people.
So yes the Czech enclave in Texas have somewhat preserved their language and foods.

Czech immigrants to Mexico had a LOT to do with the very high quality of Mexican beer, and the popularity of brass band music in Mexico.

The Texas Czech community has been there since before the treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo.

@ vacapinta: I had a look at your link on Purepeche people, and it was Time Warp time as I lived in Guanajuato for a part of my childhood.
I remember seeing ladies dressed like this pretty regularly.
The aprons were not popular with the Chichimaca people, but everyone wore those big rebozos!
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 11:19 AM on June 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


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