It’d never occurred to me before but why are those with obvious ‘outside’ American ancestry referred to with an hyphen i.e Italian-America, African-American? Even native-American people—those who are entitled to the ‘proper’ title—have the hyphen.
I interviewed Nicole Draffen the author of HYPHENED-NATION: DON’T CHECK THE BOX who had that same question:
What made you write HYPHENED-NATION: DON’T CHECK THE BOX?
Although I am a born and bred Californian, I have been fortunate enough to have traveled and lived in several parts of the world including Portugal, Paris, Italy and the United Kingdom. Living abroad was an eye opening experience, I grew to understand certain aspects of American culture better the longer I stayed overseas.
I wrote about my insights, and the experience of being treated as purely an American rather than as a hyphenated one. It focuses on ways the U.S. and Europe differ culturally via media, and how a bridge might be created. I hope one day what I discovered will be a catalyst for positive change in regards to diversity in America.
What has made you want to research/write about this topic and share it with readers?
I experienced an awakening of my true self that I never realized was suppressed after I lived in a country whose countrymen viewed me as a person, with no preconceived stereotype based on the color of my skin.
I was assumed to be British until I spoke, and then I was simply viewed as an American. Not as an African-American with all the stereotypical notions shackled to my nationality. It was an awakening moment. When I returned home to the stark understanding that I could not be my true self in my own homeland, it caused me emotional and mental turmoil. I started writing about my experience as both a cathartic, and inspirational tool.
Who or what inspired you to write HYPHENED-NATION: DON’T CHECK THE BOX?
I decided to write about my experience to leave as a legacy to my nieces and nephews who would have to grow up in hyphenated society. As I enlisted Beta readers to review each chapter, more and more people started sharing their stories, and asking me to spread this message to a wider audience. That is when I learned how many people felt this suppressed pain of being tied to a hyphen. That’s how the movement began organically.
Do the issues raised in your book affect your life/other people’s lives?
I’ve received so much positive feedback, it’s incredible. I was tentative in the beginning of asking for support because although I knew intrinsically it was a weighty issue, l had not yet understood the massive oppression a hyphen wielded. People became so excited when I asked them to support our movement, that I was actually surprised. It was if they had been waiting for someone to speak out about this subject. This subject releases some deeply felt emotions that have been under the surface their entire life. The stories I’ve heard from bi-racial children have been the most heart-breaking.
Imagine having to renounce one of your parent’s ethnicity simply because you look more like one parent over the other, and then be saddled with a hyphen to reflect that. Why do we, as Americans, allow this hypocrisy to continue?
Does your book have historical (or any other) value that readers can learn from?
Yes, there is a great deal of historical insight regarding the reasons the American government hyphenates its citizenry. As an example, the Constitutions preamble states, “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
Being categorized as a hyphened American goes against the very foundation of what our country was built upon. It does not work toward “forming a more perfect union”, it works against, “establishing justice.” It has done the opposite of, “insuring domestic tranquility.” It does not “promote the general welfare of its citizens”, nor has it succeeded in “securing the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” This is an example of “Divide and Conquer”. We (the American People) have allowed our media and our government to do just that by allowing our nationality to be hyphenated. It’s easier to control people who are divided rather than united.
Is the reader able to learn something after reading this book (I certainly have!)? Will it broaden their perspective about a difficult issue?
I believe this quote from one of my book reviews on Amazon really answers this question in a nutshell:
“Hyphened-Nation is an amazingly insightful book, which delves deep into the United States of America’s fascination with placing its citizens firmly into ethnic pigeon-holes. Penned by Nicole Draffen, who decided to write it after experiencing a completely different culture when she visited the United Kingdom, it explores the many issues, such as education, careers and social status, which can be brought to the fore when we start to class people according to their heritage and backgrounds. This is a perceptive book, touching on a subject that I had never really considered before, but one which quite clearly creates many divisions within American society.”
Was there a specific passage that had left an impression with your readers?
One of the passages most often mentioned by my readers is, “The hyphenation of your nationality minimizes your standing in the nation. The hyphen might as well act as a minus sign. Both are represented by the same symbol, and have the same consequences. Just as a minus “takes away” a numerical value, its counterpart hyphen lessens the value of your nationality.” I have had several people comment on that particular quote because it succinctly illustrates the damage a hyphen can inflict when tied to your nationality.
Does the topic covered in this book remind you of anything else that is happening in the world right now?
Most definitely!! Daily I witness the damage a Hyphened-Nation™ has wreaked in America. I see this evident everywhere. I see politicians talking about capturing the Asian, Latino, Black vote. Aren’t all these people American? What about capturing the American vote? Very few billboards feature ads with multi ethnic couples? It’s still taboo in this country. Remember the Cheerios commercial? As Americans, we should make an effort to refuse to check ethnicity boxes. I realize in some cases it is needed, but by and large it is not. There are many brands I refuse to support. I will not buy their products simply because I do not appreciate the way they depict Americans of color. There are many television shows I refuse to watch because of the negative stereotypical portrayal they use to depict people of color. I also will not buy the brands that support their programs. This is not difficult because luckily in America, my alternative choices are limitless. If you support via viewership or monetarily something that you feel is wrong and then wonder why it never changes, look in the mirror.
And now some author Questions: How many unpublished books/stories do you have lurking under your bed?
I WISH!!! That would mean I put something on paper. They are still lurking in my head.
How did you find your publisher? How do they treat you? Would you recommend them?
I found a publishing coach who actually did all the heavy lifting to get my book published. He was, and still is a Godsend
How do your juggle a writing schedule?
I normally write on weekends and evening. I keep a tape recorder with me so if I get a spark of insight I can keep a verbal post it note.
What’s the best/worst part of being a writer?
The best is when the words just flow and you feel like you are in Xanadu. The worst part is when you have to start editing that ‘flow’ and you start wondering, “what the hell was I thinking?”
Do you start your projects writing with paper and pen or is it all on the computer?
ALL computer. My hand would turn into a claw if I tried to write for more than an hour by hand
What/who do you draw inspiration from? Or who do you aspire to be like as an author?
I draw inspiration from everyday people who are not afraid to speak out against injustice.
Do you set yourself goals when you sit down to write such as word count?
Never! If I write a paragraph or 10 pages at least I put pen to paper or finger to keyboard.
Do you have a critique/editor partner?
I have about a dozen Beta readers who I can count on to critique my work.
How do you deal with bad reviews?
I think the author Ann Patchett said it best, “Praise and criticism seem to me to operate exactly on the same level. If you get a great review, it’s really thrilling for about ten minutes. If you get a bad review, it’s really crushing for ten minutes. Either way, you go on.” 10. Promoting is something ALL authors struggle with. How are you managing yours? I’m fortunate to have a fantastic public relations and media team. They are young millennials, with diverse backgrounds who intrinsically understand the implications of living in a hyphenated society. They create, design, and uphold the message on my social media platforms via Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Along with outreach to various ambassadors. The support they have created is building daily, and is extremely positive.
What was the spark that made you put pen to paper?
Once you know the truth you can’t go back to living a lie.