A 1936 author predicts that the descendents of immigrants will blend into a new, superior American "type"
Seventy-five years ago this month, The Atlantic published an anonymous essay called "American Type," in which the author is astounded to learn that a fellow train passenger -- a Mr. Paul Washington -- is a multiracial American. "One grandfather was born in England," the author marvels, "the other in Germany; one grandmother in France, the other in Ireland."
In 1936, a man with Mr. Washington's pedigree must have been something of a novelty. The author, a man who knew the country "before the income tax," could trace his entire ancestry back to Wiltshire County, England. But he was a progressive thinker who had witnessed the massive influx of European immigrants at the turn of the century, and he thought the result -- represented by Mr. Washington -- was good for the nation:
Obviously here is a man altogether American. Unlike myself, he could never think of himself as anything other than American. Unified by multiplicity, he is indigenous as a tree, and like a tree is without fear or doubt. For him there can never be a cloying question whether America is right or wrong; he is America, and America is he.
Today, Mr. Washington's heritage seems much less exotic. The 2010 census form included 14 race options in total - among them Guamanian, Samoan, Aleut, and a box for "other." There were no options for Irish, English, or French, or even European in general.