Thursday, March 3, 2016

Struggling to Name That Series

Images on this post from National Park Service.

At Mount Mercy University, we’re getting a minor lesson in the importance of names. In an earlier post, I wrote of my disdain for the president of Mount St. Mary’s University in Maryland—and recently, a fellow faculty member at my university posted a link to a news story reporting that the embattled president of Mount St. Mary’s has been drowned and shot with a Glock. Or something like that.

Right away, one of his Facebook friends posted: “Oh No! I had no idea this was going on at your university.” (That’s a paraphrase, by the way, despite the punctuation for effect.)

Well, it was neither my friend’s university nor mine. Although both the Maryland university where the controversy rages and the Iowa university where I teach are Catholic and use the word “Mount” in their name, they are totally different schools—different places, different cultures, different presidents and differing in attitude, apparently, about the appropriateness of drowning or shooting freshman bunnies.

It was ironic to me that, when looking up news stories about the Maryland University while I was working on the earlier post, the ads that Google placed on my page were for Mount Mercy University, my school. Maybe name confusion isn’t that surprising.

Anyway, the school that I do teach at, MMU, has an annual Fall Faculty Series that I volunteered to coordinate. This is our third series: The first in 2014 was about the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I; the second in 2015 was about the 50th and 40th anniversaries of the first big U.S. troop surge in Vietnam, and the end of that war.

You can partly thank Donald Trump, or Drumpf as I prefer to think of him (thank you, John Oliver): In this current election year, immigration is a hot topic. We are planning a series of panels and presentations on the cultural meaning of immigration—how people of the U.S. have responded to the reality that most of us are descendants of immigrations, and yet as a culture we often don’t welcome new outsiders.

“Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses … as long as they aren’t Muslim and we know exactly what’s going on,” or something like that.

Anyway, the Sisters of Mercy, who founded MMU and have nothing to do with that other Mount on the East Coast, identify “immigration” as one of their critical social concerns.

Although I’m sure our series will reference the current heated political debate, that’s not really the point. We want to think a bit more about what immigration has meant and does mean in American culture.

And to do that, we need to name this thing.

At the first planning meeting, those who attended wanted to talk first about the vision of the series, which is, I think, a good discussion to have.

Here is my stab at a vision statement for the series: “The United States has always been a land that drew people from many cultures and countries. During waves of immigration in the 19th Century the idea of America as the ‘melting pot’ formed, but this metaphor implies giving up a cultural heritage for a new identity. For some groups and people, it’s not that easy to assimilate, and some suggest a mosaic or a salad—many distinct parts making a whole—as more inclusive symbols of the U.S.A. And there are those who lived here before the settlers, pioneers and slaves flooded onto these shores—Native Americans didn’t have to go anywhere for an immigrant nation to overtake their lands. What does immigration mean? What is the journey narrative of the peoples of the U.S.A., and how do we respond to and understand immigration? The 2016 Mount Mercy University Fall Faculty Series will examine these questions about the American experience.”

There is nothing official about that vision statement—it’s just my current thinking, my personal draft. I post it here mostly so you, dear blog reader, can understand when I ask you to “name that series” just what the series is.

Anyway, faculty, students and staff at the first meeting did have some ideas for names. What do you think? What should we call this series? Some of our initial ideas:

  • “Who are the Americans? The U.S. Immigration Experience.”
  • “Immigration America: Shunning or Embracing the Huddled Masses.”
  • “I am America: U.S. Immigration Experience.”
  • “U.S.A.: Immigrant Melting Pot or Mosaic?”
  • “Strangers to our Shores: The U.S. Immigration Story.”
  • “Building Walls And Building Bridges: The U.S. Immigration Experience.”

I’m not sure that’s an all-inclusive list, and at this point I welcome new ideas. But, I would like to get a name for this series soon.

Please chime in, as long as your ideas have neither bunnies nor Glocks in them.