Kenneth B. Hilliard
The story of America’s minority culture, is both long and varied. In fact, cultural members of at least one of America’s minority groups were at one time, members of America’s majority group, and in fact, its only ethnic group.
Long before the white man ever ventured to America, the Native Americans were here. Their history in this country can actually be traced back approximately 25,000 years to their ancient ancestors. The reason why this link can be made is because like most ethnic groups, the Native Americans had a rich, unique, and diverse cultural heritage. Through many ancient artifacts, mostly recovered in the Southwestern United States, the story of their life here in America can be told. Fortunately for us, the Native Americans, within their own communities, have learned to preserve and transfer their culture to others for many, many generations. This feat they were able to accomplish despite the fact that they had no formal written language.
Many thousands of years later, but before the arrival of Afro-Americans, the Spanish explorers began to find their way to our shores. With them came their culture, and because of navigational reasons, they settled in the southern part of the United States, the Caribbean Islands, and Central America instead of India. Once on the mainland shores of North America, they gradually migrated to the southwestern portion of the United States. Once settled there, these Spanish explorers found the Native American’s culture and climate of the southwestern part of the United States, to be very similar to theirs. So, after many years of struggles, wars, and eventually slavery, of the Native Americans, the groups began to mix through marriage and before long, there was a sharing and mutual understanding and acceptance between the two groups.
These first two stories may be foreign to some, but virtually everyone knows of the plight and struggles of Afro-Americans here in America.
The last of America’s minority groups to reach its shores, tells of a different story. Here, this group arrived not of their own free will, but rather forced through one of the cruelest punishments know to mankind ever, slavery. Different from the Native Americans who were original inhabitants of America, and still different from the Spanish who came of their own free will, Afro-Americans were forced under subhuman and horrible conditions, to work for the white men who purchased them, not as hired hands or indentured servants, but, as slaves until they were either sold again, traded to another owner, or died. This type of slavery was much different from other types of slavery where the slaves were able to either work, buy, or marry their way free.
These three groups, America’s cultural and ethnic minorities, are alike in so many ways, and yet, so different in many others. As pointed out previously, all three cultural groups presence in America was arrived at through different ways. The Native Americans, were always here, the Chicanos who are of Spanish descent, began to arrive here in the early sixteenth century, after many previous explorations by Columbus who sailed under the Spanish flag. Finally came the Afro-Americans, who began to arrive here in America as slaves in the early seventeenth century.
A second major difference among the groups has been their attitudes and goals with respect to assimilation with the mainstream culture. In this respect, the three groups can be divided into two.
The Native Americans and Chicanos have both preferred to stay within close knit communities away from mainstream American culture. The Native Americans have done this by choosing to stay on reservations or in homogeneous communities with members of their own tribe(s). The Chicanos, many of whom live in major cities and urban areas, still prefer to live within their own ethnic communities, thus preserving their festivals, foods, and culture. The Afro-Americans however, have chosen an “alternate route”, they have tried unsuccessfully, to assimilate with mainstream America’s culture, and have met obstacle after obstacle in this endeavor. This stumbling block happens to be one of the major similarities that all three groups have in common, their treatment and virtual ignorance by the mainstream culture has remained constant. It is here, at this point, that the three groups are similar whether they chose to be or not.