Patrick O’Neil Response to Bourne’s Trans-National America

History repeats itself. Almost all of the issues revolving around “Americanism” that Bourne touches upon in “Trans-National America” are still the subjects of much present-day political discussion a hundred years later. Bourne asks the question of whether “Americanization [should] take place only on our own terms, and not by the consent of the governed.” America today faces the same questions with immigrants from Latin America and Asia that we faced with immigrants from Eastern Europe a century ago. How much assimilation is necessary to become American? Is there a truly American culture, or is the essence of America the ability to live two different identities, one American and one tied to a mother country?

Bourne treats the American “ruling element” with more disdain than I think is appropriate for this question, both for the start of the 20th century and 21st century. He claims that “the Anglo-Saxon element is guilty of just what every dominant race is guilty of in every European country: the imposition of its own culture upon the minority peoples.” What is culture, if not a series of shared rituals and experiences across a region or country? In the case of Europe, centuries of migration and political shifts dating back to the Roman Empire have shaped the cultures that we know today as French, German, Italian, etc. In the same way, early immigration shaped American culture largely after Britain, with immigrants from the rest of Europe added into the “melting pot” over the next 150 years. The Anglo-Saxon culture combined with other cultures and the frontier to form the beginnings of a distinctly American culture that exists today.

Just as France is known for baguettes and wine, and Italy has pasta and art, American culture consists (partially) of apple pie, hot dogs, and baseball. There’s nothing wrong with delineating cultures in this way, as it gives people of the same nation commonalities to coalesce around. As part of my own Polish heritage, my family celbrates Wigilea, a traditional feast followed by the exchange of gifts, on Christmas Eve after church. I know many Puerto Ricans for whom Three Kings Day is a very important holiday, and they have their own rituals that mark this day. This doesn’t make us any less American, it simply allows us to stay connected to the culture of our forefathers, which is not mutually exclusive from living within a distinct American culture as well.

One thought on “Patrick O’Neil Response to Bourne’s Trans-National America

  1. I agree with your critique of Bourne’s views on American culture. Although our culture is heavily influenced by the Anglo-Saxon culture of our country’s founders, subsequent waves of immigrants have all played a part in shaping the United States; America has developed its own identity, one which may have not been as well-defined during Bourne’s time as it is today. I also agree with the idea that even though we retain some of our cultural traditions, it does not make us any less American. If anything, this contributes to the uniqueness of American culture.

    An interesting aspect of Bourne’s writing is his criticism of the South, which he contends is the most “distinctly American” region in the United States. Bourne blames the stagnant development of the South on the American culture that exists there; he compares this region to Northern states such as Wisconsin and Minnesota, where the cultures of German and Scandinavian immigrants remained distinct but cooperating. I think it’s unreasonable to attribute the positive economic and social development of the North to this cooperation of cultures. There are certainly other factors in play, but Bourne chooses to ignore them in order to support his argument.

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