When I was growing up we never used phrases such as "Japanese American", or "Irish American." If someone said, "What nationality are you," I'd answer with, "Hawaiian, Chinese, Portagee." I've had friends get a bit miffed when I forget myself and use these terms. They remind me that my nationality is American. I reply with "of course," but in my mind I'm thinking, "Well, duh, I knew that, what's your problem?"
I was thinking about it yesterday, while polluting my lungs and enjoying the sun, and it hit me; growing up we never said it, because we all assumed it was a given. We never used terms like "Asian American" because we never had to give any thought to being American. We all knew we were Americans, and we all knew that anything else came in second to being American. We never said it, because it went without saying.
I've always had a problem with the hyphenated Americans. I do consider it devisive, but until recently I had never really bothered to try to put my finger on it. So, here goes... I have a problem with it because it feels like they have to remind people that they are Americans. Not because people consider them less than fully American, but because they don't feel American. They're hyphenated Americans because they're not all that American. Oh sure they're American citizens, but they don't feel it to the point where it becomes a total non-issue. They define themselves as hyphenated Americans because the part in front of the hyphen has as much worth to them as the part behind the hyphen. If they felt themselves to be whole-heartedly American, they wouldn't have to bother with the hyphen, because it would be a given that they were Americans.
Let's get one thing straight here; I'm not saying that this is how it really is. I'm saying that this is how it feels to me. This is the vibe I get when talking to people who insist on being a hyphenated American, rather than an American who happens to be Cantonese, or Fillipino, or French.