Friday, March 10, 2006

Japantown, multiculturalism, and Tony Soprano

After the recent fuss about preserving Japantown as a cultural entity, as if on cue the message about this year's Cherry Blossom Festival arrives from PROSF. This is what all the blather about preserving Japantown's "cultural identity" is really about---retaining a lucrative marketing strategy for a city neighborhood where only 10% of the residents are of Japanese ethnic origin. 

Making the preservation of ethnic enclaves a political priority, as Amartya Sen points out in a recent essay, is really the false path of "plural monoculturalism" that, in effect, encourages different cultures to "pass one another like ships in the night." ("Chili and Liberty," The New Republic, Feb. 27, 2006) If people in the US choose to cling to the customs of their country of origin, fine; but why should government help them not assimilate to their adopted country?

Ward Connerly may be wrong about affirmative action---though it's not clear to me that he is---but he's got the right goal in mind: the creation of a completely color-blind society in America. In a 1997 NY Times interview, Connerly had an illuminating exchange with a reporter who nicely represented the plural monoculturalism point of view:

Reporter: What are you?
Connerly: I am an American.
Reporter: No, no, no! What are you?
Connerly: Yes, yes, yes! I am an American.
Reporter: That is not what I mean. I was told that you are African American. Are you ashamed to be African American?
Connerly: No, I am just proud to be an American.
(Quoted in The New Criterion, June, 2004)

Connerly understands that he's "African" the same way someone like me is "British" or "European," which is not at all, since, like me, he was born and raised in the US.

I conclude with a thought from another great American, Tony Soprano, speaking to his consigliere: "Did you get all this because you're Italian? No. You got it because you're you, because you're smart, because whatever. Where is our self-esteem? I mean, that doesn't come from Columbus or 'The Godfather' or Chef Boyardee." ("As Sopranos Returns, Art Irritates Life," Clyde Haberman, NY Times, March 10, 2006)

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