Dilution vs. Dancing: Scots-Irish and Basques in the American West
Senator Jim Webb’s book, Born Fighting, and the associated Smithsonian series, filmed in Scotland, Northern Ireland, and America, explains that the Scots-Irish blended into the fabric of North America and are one of the few ethnic groups to not really identify themselves as an ethnic group, their identity is so diluted into the fabric of America. The “Scotch-Irish exhibit several distinctive, ideological grounded behaviors that have characterized their subculture since Colonial times. Paradoxically, many of these traits have become so naturalized over time that they have lost their ethnic label and are now viewed simply as American” (Brown, Hirschman and Maclaran 2006, p. 86). Some of these traits are generally considered to be hard working, fiercely independent but loyal, having a pioneer spirit and “populist-style American democracy” (Webb 2004, p. xiv).
With very different time periods of migration (mostly 18th century versus 19th/20th century), the Scots/Scotch-Irish and the Basque might not appear to have much in common. Basque did not share a common language with others upon arrival, as did the Scots-Irish. While Basques have certainly intermarried and been “diluted” to some extent, their identity is often very obvious and has been preserved through dancing, music, a unique language, and food.
Both groups, however, have a long history of migration and exploration and in the case of North America, often form a secondary migration (i.e., Scotland to Ulster to North America; Basques to Argentina to America). Both came to the new world often for opportunistic reasons (free or cheap land, the gold rush, etc.) and are known as hard workers. Their histories are based on democratic principles (i.e., Declaration of Arbroath in Scotland; parliamentary sessions at the tree of Gernika) whether their descendants became involved in politics or not. Both often faced repression and persecution at home. They were mostly the lower, not elite, classes. Both groups moved “west” although the definition of the American west has changed over the centuries. The authors (one Basque/Irish, one Scotch-Irish) trace the numerable similarities of the Basques and Scotch-Irish in America and their contribution to the American West. They will explore some of the potential reasons for the contrast of “dilution versus dancing.”
John Bieter and Nina Ray. "Dilution vs. Dancing: Scots-Irish and Basques in the American West" The Nineteenth Biennial Ulster-American Heritage Symposium, The Mellon Centre for Migration Studies, Ulster-American Folk Park. Omagh, Northern Ireland. Jun. 2012.
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