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    Our Take: Ethnic America

April 2008

Volume XXVIII, No. 2

When Michael Novak published Rise of the Unmeltable Ethnics in 1972, some ethnics hoped that the book would become a watershed, a Catholic Central European equivalent to Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream.” Well, the money has not been found, and the period of promoting underprivileged minorities seems to have passed. American politics moves on with lightning speed, and the ethnics remain left behind. No one has ever cut them any slack. They cannot claim minority status because they are white, yet in many ways they have been discriminated against because of their names, social habits, and religious beliefs.

This issue highlights these unmeltable ethnics. The first part of Mary Grabar’s novel about Slovenian Americans sounds strangely familiar to Polish ears. Indeed, Grabar might as well have given her heroines Polish, Moravian, or Lithuanian names, for they partake of a life that has also been described by Suzanne Strempek Shea and Anthony Bukoski.

Among the redeeming features of these ethnics is their ontological sensibility. This is not a highfalutin name for something that has been contemptuously dismissed as primitive religiosity. Some postmodern religiosity is so sophisticated that it has lost touch with anything but itself. The ethnics go to their churches and, while they have not been trained to verbalize their experiences, they more often than not possess that sixth sense that gives rise to a genuine spiritual life. The flowers they leave at the icons of the Virgin Mary signify a certain detachment from such priorities as winning at any price.

Professor Knasas’s apt deconstruction of an ostensibly learned and refined tome on “security communities” (newspeak for “how to live in peace with your neighbor”) is a good indication of how sturdy these ontological sensibilities are and how thin the discourse that tries to eliminate them is.

The ethnics described in Professor Galush’s book are such people. They read Henryk Sienkiewicz rather than James Joyce. They would identify with the defense of Sienkiewicz in the book reviewed by Professor Michael MikoĊ›.

In that connection, The Last Mazurka, Andrew Tarnowski’s autobiographical book about the Polish aristocracy reviewed in this issue, shows that as citizens and as human beings the Tarnowskis and their kin rank well below the ethnics that Galush’s book speaks about. Their sense of social responsibility is nil, and their interest is mainly in themselves. Perhaps one of the reasons why the Central European ethnics have fared so poorly in claiming a share of political life in America is that the upper classes of their societies (who also emigrated) refused to discharge the responsibilities that used to be part of their station.

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