How the United States re-branded as "America"

NPR's Throughline had a great recent episode about what's essentially the branding of the American Empire. Host Rund Abdelfatah speaks with Daniel Immerwahr, a history professor at Northwestern University, who the changing ways that America has identified itself over the years.

I always found it kind of strange to say "America" (even though I do it), as it also refers to two entire continents. And I've similarly found it interesting when I hear Europeans refer to the country as "the States." But Immerwahr took things a step further, and traced the history of self-reference through American presidential speeches. Prior to 1898 — the time of our rarely-mentioned war with Spain, which saw American expansionism grow beyond the continental borders and into the Philippines, Guam, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and Cuba and so on — it was rare to hear a President refer to the country as "America." It could be the Republic, or the Union, or the United States, sometimes even Columbia or Freedonia (like "land of the free people," yes that was apparently a real thing at one time).

Immerwahr smartly connects this to curiosity to the country's intrinsic relationship (and subsequent, neverending identity crises) with imperialism. We were founded on conquered land, and though we aspired to be a union of independent nation-states with open borders and shared currency, that never actually happened. The "free" people of the United States distinguished themselves from the black slaves who tilled their fields, and the various Native American nations with whom they sometimes shared the land. Read the rest

Inside the effort to save an indigenous Pacific Island language that the US tried to destroy

The United States "liberated" Guam and the Marianas Islands from 1898 during the Spanish-American War. As is usually the case with American Liberation, this meant further colonization, conversion into military outposts, and a forced re-education of the native Chamorros. To be fair, those indigenous inhabitants had already endured some 300 years of Spanish colonialism by then. By the time the US showed up, most Chammoros spoke in Spanish. But they also had their own language, called CHamoru.

But, as the Guardian tells it, the imperialist force that famously boasts about its firm belief in the freedom of speech (from a country that doesn't even have an official language) tried to stomp out the language at all costs:

The US navy banned CHamoru in 1917 “except for official interpreting”. The naval administration even burned CHamoru-English dictionaries.

It wasn’t until the mid-1970s that the ban on speaking CHamoru in schools was lifted, says Michael Bevacqua, a CHamoru language educator on Guam. Until then, schoolchildren who spoke CHamoru were punished, and their parents were sometimes even fined.

[…]

A decade ago, the US census estimated there were about 25,827 CHamoru speakers on Guam, just 2,394 of whom were under the age of 18, and only 14,176 CHamoru speakers in the rest of the island chain.

Robert Underwood, the former president of the University of Guam, says most of the fluent speakers are likely to be over the age of 50.

“In another 20 to 30 years there may not be any real first-language speakers of CHamoru,” he says.

Read the rest

The colonialism behind fantasy's vaguely Irish Elves

Motherfoclóir is a delightful podcast about language and linguistics as they relate to Ireland ("foclóir" being the Irish word for "dictionary," and thus completely unrelated to that homophonic English-language word you're surely thinking of, c'mon). While that might seem like a niche topic outside of the Emerald Isle herself, a recent episode tackled something that's surely on everyone's mind: those fantastical pointy-eared aristocrats known only as elves.

Specifically, it's a conversation with Irish writer Orla Ní Dhúill, whose blog about elves, Irishness, and colonialism gained a lot of traction among fantasy fans across the globe.

Growing up as a nerdy Irish-American kid, I always understood there to be something vaguely Gael-ish about elves. Even though I didn't know why. Even though I knew it didn't make sense. Even though I knew that Tolkien himself was not particularly fond of the Irish (the language, at least, if not the people). Was it because they used an cló gaelach, the insular font so often associated with Irish Gaelic? Even in my later adolescence, as I wasted my measly weekend job wages on Warhammer 40K, I couldn't help but notice the inherent Irishness in the names and terms of the mystical Eldar alien race who are basically space elves anyway (spoiler: it turns out the Eldar language is, in fact, mostly just bastardized lines from Irish Gaelic proverbs).

The podcast episode is full of insightful exchanges on language and colonialism between Ní Dhúill and host Peader Kavanagh. You can listen below, or on your preferred podcasting platform. Read the rest

An archive of Freedom, Paul Robeson and Louis Burnham's radical Harlem newspaper

Freedom, published in Harlem during the Cold War and McCarthy years, was Paul Robeson and Louis Burnham's radical black paper that "ppenly challenged racism, imperialism, colonialism, and political repression and advocated for civil rights, labor rights and world peace"; NYU's Freedom archive holds browsable (but not searchable, alas!) scans of issues with contributions from "W.E.B. Du Bois, Alice Childress and Lorraine Hansberry" and many others. (Thanks, Fipi Lele!) Read the rest