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And for 2016 Our Series Is …

“No one was even looking in our direction, and I felt the way that I often felt in this country-simultaneously conspicuous and invisible, like an oddity whom everyone noticed but chose to ignore.” The Book of Unknown Americans.

I’m pretty excited for the 2016 Fall Faculty Series at Mount Mercy University. The theme was chosen Monday at our faculty meeting from among many ideas submitted by staff and faculty.

Joy Ochs, our faculty chair, was last year’s applause-o-meter, but decided the dignity of her office prevented her from doing that role this year. I, on the other hand, have no dignity that I am aware of, so I stood there, hands to my right, ready to sweep in an arc leftward to measure the applause.

There were a whole menu of ideas presented, but after brief discussion, the faculty settled on these finalists:

  • The Mercy Jubilee Year, declared by Pope Francis.
  • The Status of American Democracy.
  • Immigration to the United States.
  • Assimilation vs Identity Among the People Who Immigrated to the United States.

I’m not sure we exactly articulated the fourth idea that way—it was more like “the immigration and assimilation idea.” We got caught up in the interesting debate over whether to even use the term “melting pot,” which is mostly an analogy that works for white Europeans and not so well for everyone else.

But number 4 was a clear winner, the one that moved my hands most over to the left due to the volume of applause. I’m pretty pleased with that choice. The first idea was timely, and tied a larger Catholic theme to MMU, the second was certainly relevant and no doubt will be discussed in many class, and the third was likely to be a hot topic in this election cycle—but the fourth idea can incorporate many of the suggested themes as forum topics.

For example, the Sisters of Mercy come from Ireland, and one suggested theme on our larger menu of choices was to play off of the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Uprising—to think about Irish immigration and what it means. Two of the suggestions had to do with prominent 19th century prejudices that have not completely disappeared in 21st century America: Anti-Chinese sentiment and anti-Catholic sentiment. Another idea had to do with the roots of the nativist movement in 19th century America. And any or all of these could become event-forum topics in our 2016 series.

Also today, we have Donald Trump’s first commercial, an abysmal video calling for a ban on Muslims entering the U.S. “until we can figure out what’s going on.” One thing going on is a churlish attempt to create a religious test for immigration, something from which true Americans recoil in horror. But then, to be honest, “recoil in horror” is pretty much my default reaction to almost all things related to The Donald.

But, I digress. The Muslim-American experience is something that could be discussed in this year’s series.

We have a good theme for our 2016 series, one that taps into a universal American experience: The question of assimilation vs identity. It applies to all immigrant groups—and most of us are members of or come from various immigrant groups—as well as to Native Americans, who live in a country with an alien-dominated culture. No doubt all those good White Americans occupying a federal wildlife preserve in Oregon just want to return the West to its rightful, indigenous owners, right?

Sorry, another digression. I’m back on topic again.

Book cover

I’m about 2/3 of the way through this book. It’s a good read.

What the faculty selected is also a good theme because Christina Henríquez, the author of  “The Book of Unknown Americans,” is speaking this fall at MMU—so we already have an event set that can resonate well with the new fall series.

As a reminder, this is the third such series MMU has hosted. In 2014, we had a big conversation about the far-reaching cultural effects of World War I: “A Century of Glory and Shame: Mount Mercy Reflects on How WWI Made Today.” In 2015, we decided to try a Fall Faculty Series again, this time the theme was: “Stories We Tell: Legacies of the Vietnam War.”

Both proved very popular, drawing faculty, staff, students and community members to multiple events. The two previous series also touched on anniversaries: The 100th anniversary of the start of World War I, the 50th anniversary of U.S. combat forces entering Vietnam in large numbers and the 40th anniversary of the war ending.

This year is neither a war nor an anniversary, but I think it’s good to do something different. Plus, even if it is not an anniversary, the theme clearly touches on immigration, which is bound to continue to be a hot topic.

Anyway, now comes the dreaming and planning. We need to name this thing in a way that resonates, that can draw community members in. Candice from nursing suggested that “journey” should be part of the name. We fussed a while at the faculty meeting over whether “melting pot” should be mentioned, and I brought up the competing “quilt” analogy.

Here are my initial attempts at names for the 2016 series:

“Journeys to America: What is Native and what is New in a Patchwork Nation.”
“The Reality Behind the Melting Pot: Assimilation and Identity in the U.S.A.”
“What it Means to be U.S.: Reflections on Our Immigrant-Ethnic Heritage.”

Honestly, none of them exactly rolls off the tongue. I’m not feeling the naming magic, yet.

So, what are your thoughts? If you were to name a series of events about how immigrants and natives assimilate or remain culturally separated in the United States, what would you call it?


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