What exactly is ethnicity? The word has many connotations including race, nationality and cultural heritage. Society doesn’t explain its meaning very well, leaving that check box on an application or census survey a little broad in implication. One result of such studies, however, reveals some interesting characteristics of an area’s culture.
UCI is notorious for its Asian population. According to the most recent census survey, the Asian population in the United States makes up 3.6 percent of the total population. The same count of our student body at UCI reveals a whopping 44 percent. The overwhelming majority of the U.S. population overall is ‘white/caucasian’ with a national proportion of 75.1 percent. In California, that number is 59.5 percent. In Orange County, 64.8 percent. In Irvine, 57 percent. At UCI, 27 percent.
When discussing ethnic identity, there seem to be two clear categories: cultural and racial.
‘Rarely do I ever think of myself in terms of race, and when I do, I think of myself as white,’ explained Ryan Peeck, a second-year literary journalism major. ‘When I use the word ‘white,’ it means the same as saying ‘black’ or ‘Asian’ … it’s simply an identifier. Perhaps for others the terms are loaded, but in a fundamental sense, skin pigmentation is very different from cultural identity.’
Society as a whole, however, doesn’t make such simple distinctions. From movie stars to advertisements, a person’s racial identification often seems to define how the rest of the public perceives them. While a person’s racial origin is often linked to that origin’s culture (for example, being Japanese and recognizing Japanese culture), American society has caused a comparable ‘white culture’ to emerge. This trend has even led to phrases such as ‘white-washed’ that, accurate or not, describe a person’s behavior and values to what society identifies with white culture.
‘Surf and skater cultures are pretty much what I’m familiar with, as far as what’s considered mainstream white culture,’ said Michael Thompson, a third-year philosophy major. ‘I think ‘white-washed’ pretty much describes people who identify with the most mainstream culture. I don’t think it has anything to do with a ‘white culture.”
What makes our society want to qualify a ‘white culture’? Maybe it’s because other ethnic groups have a more immediate source of cultural influence, as portions of their populations have come to the United States only a few generations ago.
Andrew Willsie, a third-year physics and biological sciences double major who identifies himself as white, said, ‘Whites don’t seem to have a rich heritage of culture.’
A second-year physics major and a student of half-Mexican, half-white descent, Kelly Sewell personally identifies more with her Mexican side for its cultural value.
‘I don’t know of any culture or tradition on my white side,’ Sewell said. ‘My white friends don’t seem to have anything going on.’
Others think because of history, a ‘white culture’ is associated with American culture in general as the United States’ forefathers were all European in origin.
‘The big thing in America is that to begin with, everyone was white,’ said Thompson, who racially defines himself as half-Irish and half-German and culturally identifies himself as Taiwanese and black. ‘Americans were mainly white to begin with.’
American culture (at least at UCI), however, reaches further than simply having ‘white roots.’
‘American culture is definitely all-inclusive of other cultures … it’s a jumble of other cultures,’ Willsie said. ‘American culture is not related to the white race.’
Peeck agreed. ‘America is a melting pot,’ he said. ‘When my ancestors came here they brought with them elements of their own culture. Just as those elements were incorporated into what can broadly be painted as ‘American culture,’ so too are the elements from every other culture in the world.’
He also believed that American culture had nothing to do with being white.
‘Being American is often mistakenly seen as being the same as ‘white,” Peeck said. ‘Too often people