The Coin Conundrum

When it comes to determining what constitutes an Asian-American, the U.S. Census Bureau provided an accurate picture thanks to the 2010 Census.   Asian-Americans were those Americans who were either immigrants or descendants of immigrants.

  • 2% are Chinese-American
  • 7% are Filipino-American
  • 4% are East Indian-American
  • 0% are Vietnamese-American
  • 9% are Korean-American
  • 5% are Japanese-American
  • 3% are of some other variation Asia-American

It’s an insult to insist that those from one group have the same physical features as those from any or all of the other groups.  And yet, CBS News reported on January 13, 2017 that the U.S. Treasury Department is issuing a commemorative coin series honoring the 225th anniversary of the U.S. Mint with a twist.  According to CBS News, the coins will depict Lady Liberty in a “variety of contemporary forms” and these forms would include “designs representing Asian-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, and Indian-Americans among others.”

The images on these coins will be representative of cultural groups as opposed to being images of individuals as was the case with the Susan B. Anthony dollar or the Sacagawea dollar or the Helen Keller quarter in Alabama or the Eleanor and Virginia Dare half-dollar in North Carolina.  The images proposed for the Lady Liberty coins are generalized images of individuals from groups that are defined by their heritage … more or less.

More or less because the Chinese are as different from the Japanese as the Australians are different from Canadians.  Is it offensive to create a generalized stereotyped image of an Asian-American Lady Liberty and place that generalized stereotyped image on a coin from the U.S. Treasury Department?

And which culture will be excluded from the Asian-American Lady Liberty coin?  After all, she can’t be representative of all Asian cultures all at once, can she?  That being the case, which Asian-American groups will be excluded to make way for the Asian-American groups to be included?

Of the one or more Asian-American groups excluded, will this not be segregation?  The flip side of this coin is that of the one or more Asian-American groups included, won’t they suffer cultural appropriation?

Imagine the uproar when the Hispanic-American coin hits the marketplace.  After all, the U.S. Census Bureau has determined that a Hispanic is “a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race.”  As a side note, did you know that Portugal is part of that other Spanish culture mentioned?  Awesome!

Also, don’t forget that the Western Sahara, the Philippines, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Palau, and Micronesia are all areas with Hispanic cultural influences so that might be another thing that could be considered when creating this coin image. There’s going to be a lot of excluded people with hurt feelings, and a lot of angry included people with watered down culture made to fit a generalized stereotype that fits the overall population’s image of what a Hispanic-American Lady Liberty is supposed to look like!

As if that’s not going to be bad enough, that Native American Indian Lady Liberty is going to be a doozie to come up with considering there are 566 Federally recognized Native American Indian tribes in the United States.  As with the other hyphenated-American groups, that generalized stereotype Indian image is going to be a hotbed of problems when Indigenous Lady Liberty gets minted.

Perhaps a subscriber or visitor to the blog has suggestions that will resolve this conundrum.

Elyse Bruce

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Melting Pot or Puzzle Pieces

America is thought of as a melting pot by many but perhaps it’s more of a jigsaw puzzle with specific pieces being withheld by some making it impossible to create a complete picture.  If cultural appropriation is to be stopped dead in its tracks, it has to be a complete effort.  It cannot be a solution that is only applied in part when convenient.

If America is to wipe out cultural appropriation completely, perhaps it’s best to begin with the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States of America.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

First off, the word people has to be removed.  Although it’s a Middle English word, it’s from the Anglo-Norman French word peupel which is from the Latin word populus.  Strike people from the preamble.

Union has to be removed as well.  Although it’s a 15th century Middle English word, it’s from the 12th century Anglo-Norman French word unioun which, in turn, is from the ecclesiastical Latin word unio which is from the Latin word unus meaning one.  Strike union from the preamble.

Don’t worry though.  As long as justice passes the test, the preamble is still workable.  Good news, readers!  Justice is from the 12th century English.  Bad news, readers!  It’s from the Old French word justice (spelled as it’s spelled in English) which, of course, is from the Latin word iustus.  Strike Justice.

Surely tranquility will make the grade.  Except that this word was added to the English language in the late 14th century and was from the 12th century Old French word tranquilité which is from the Latin word tranquillitatem so scratch tranquility from the preamble while we’re at it.

Defense was English in the 13th century but it’s from the Old French word defense (spelled the same way as in English), and that’s from the Latin word defensus and well, there’s no way it can be said to be English.  It just isn’t.

So far, we’re not doing very well with making sure only English words are being used in the preamble of the Constitution of the United States of America.  Surely welfare is English through and through though.  And finally, we have a word that’s English from the Old English term wel faran that means “the condition of being, or doing, well.”  Okay, so Welfare gets to stay in the preamble.

Blessings is up next, and yes, the preamble gets to keep blessings as it’s an Old English word from the mid-14th century.  Thank goodness for that!  That makes for two words that get to stay in the preamble.

Unfortunately, liberty is out (sorry Lady Liberty and the Statue of Liberty).  While liberty shows up in English by the late 14th century, it was by way of the 14th century Old French word liberté and like so many other French words, its harks back to the Latin word libertatemLiberty is out.

Posterity.  Maybe posterity can join welfare and blessings in the preamble without worry of being from another language.

This isn’t going very well for the English language at all, no matter how you slice it.

The English word posterity is from the late 14th century by way of the 14th century Old French word posterité which is from the Latin word posteritatem.  We’ll have to remove posterity from the preamble now as we continue to sanitize the sentence.

Hopefully the Constitution can still ordain and establish without worry of appropriating some other culture’s words for this.

And the answer is no.  No it can’t.  The Constitution can neither ordain nor establishOrdain from the late 13th century is from the Latin word ordinare by way of the Old French word ordener, and establish is from the Old French word establiss which is an updated version of the Latin word stabilire.

This isn’t looking very good for the first sentence in the Constitution’s preamble, is it?

And speaking of the Constitution, things aren’t looking very good for the word Constitution either.  Yes, it was a word in the English language in the 14th century but it’s thanks to the 12th century Old French word constitucion, and with the French words that have been the basis for English words, it also goes right back to a Latin word.  This time, the word is constitutio.

Before we go any further, I suppose that the first word of that sentence should also undergo scrutiny since it is a very important first word.  We sounds English but if you think it’s English, start to finish, you’d be mistaken.  Some might try to slip it past the etymology magnifying glass by saying the word is from an Old Saxon word wi and by way of justification, since Anglo-Saxons are English for the most part, then the word is English.

Sorry but the Saxons were a Germanic people.  Yes, it’s true that Saxons moved westward into Wales and England, but the fact of the matter remains they were Germanic first and foremost, and they brought the word wi (pronounced the way the word we is pronounced today) with them to England.  That means we has to be pulled as well.

So let’s take a look at that first sentence in the preamble of the Constitution (Americans will have to find a new word for that) of the United States.  Let’s remove the important words that aren’t English then, shall we?

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.


The United States, promote the general Welfare, and secure Blessings, for the United States of America.


That’s pretty much it in a nutshell.  The first sentence in the preamble of the Constitution of the United States, once stripped of words that are originally from other languages and cultures, reads like a poorly written greeting card.

Suggestions for how this unfortunate situation should be addressed are welcome.  After all, if we don’t want to be segregationist and we don’t want to be accused of cultural appropriation, how should society deal with the first sentence in the preamble of the Constitution of the United States of America?  Do we, as a society, give the preamble a pass, or do we insist that all signs of cultural appropriation be scrubbed from this important document?

Elyse Bruce

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