How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

With shooter's ethnicity, race becomes an even bigger part of the Trayvon Martin story

Photo by Miss Stavs/Flickr (Creative Commons)

George Zimmerman, left, and Trayvon Martin, right.

If race is already a major part of the story involving the shooting death of 17-year-year-old Trayvon Martin last month in Florida, it's becoming even bigger. Media reports have increasingly begun to identify the shooter, 28-year-old George Zimmerman, not as "white" as he was originally identified, but as Latino after his father identified him as such to a Florida newspaper.

It doesn't change much in the sense that an unarmed teenager, who was visiting the neighborhood with his dad and had stepped out to a convenience store for snacks, is now dead. But news of the ethnic identity of Zimmerman, who apparently pursued the boy and has yet to be arrested, has set off a curious reaction.

One story related to the ethnic-label switch headlined "Media Labels Hispanic Man White in Shooting of Black Teen," on the late Andrew Breitbart's conservative Brietbart website, has drawn some angry/cynical comments. Here's one, from Dougragan:

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More on ethnic Halloween costumes: 'It's not just about a culture...it's about power' (Video)

WAMU's DCentric blog in Washington, D.C. has been covering the debate over whether or not it's acceptable to don ethnic drag, i.e. that scanty PocaHottie or "Arab Shiek" costume, on Halloween.

Last week, the blog featured a poll seeking input from readers. Today they've posted a video in which ColorLines magazine's Jorge Rivas interviews interviews Stephanie Sheeley, the treasurer of Students Teaching About Racism in Society (S.T.A.R.S.).

The Ohio University student group is responsible for the much-publicized (and much-parodied by now) "We're a Culture, Not a Costume" media campaign. Sheeley talks about the campaign and criticism of it, and why it is that costumes which impersonate a marginalized group are deemed offensive by some.

A post last week on Multi-American highlighted an essay from the Native American issues and images blog Native Appropriations that explained the view of the offended. It also offered a few creative alternatives for those who insist on wearing something ethnic.

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Growing up Persian in an Italian restaurant

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Multi-American's sister blog DCentric in Washington, D.C. has been taking on the topic of food authenticity, in particular whether ethnic food that's prepared and served by chefs and proprietors of an ethnicity different from that of the cuisine is sufficiently "authentic." Last week, blogger Elahe Izadi profiled a couple of these restaurateurs, a Salvadoran immigrant who operates a pizzeria and an Iranian immigrant who runs a Cajun restaurant.

In a first-person piece yesterday, Izadi explained her connection: She's the child of an Iranian immigrant father who worked in Italian restaurants, eventually developed his own sauce recipe, and opened his own restaurant serving Italian food. From the post:

Growing up, many people assumed we were Italian, particularly since there weren’t many Iranians in our fairly homogenous community. Sometimes we’d joke that my grandmother was part-Italian, or that my father had flown over Italy and that counts for something. Some customers, among them Italians, would tell us how the food reminded them of restaurants in Little Italy or Italy itself.

In our home, my mother’s Persian cooking reigned supreme. But sometimes we’d eat white pizza and eggplant parmigiana from our restaurant, which was also home cooking. At large family get-togethers, we served traditional Persian dishes alongside baked ziti.

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'What makes a restaurant authentic?'

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Should it matter if Cajun food is prepared by a chef from Iran, sushi by a chef from Mexico?

In a land where your sushi chef might be from Mexico, they guy who makes your pizza might be from El Salvador, and the owner of your favorite Cajun joint might be from Iran, how relevant is "authenticity" to a restaurant if the food is good? And what constitutes authenticity, anyway?

Elahe Izadi of WAMU's DCentric blog in Washington, D.C. poses these questions in an interesting post today, talking to the chefs and patrons of eateries operated by people whose ethnicity is different from that of the cuisine served.

Among those she interviews is Bardia Ferdowski, an Iranian immigrant who moved to Louisiana, working in Cajun restaurants and eventually opening his own Cajun kitchen in D.C. She also talks to Jose De Velasquez, an immigrant from El Salvador whose pizzeria, the Italian-sounding Moroni & Brothers, also serves Salvadoran and Mexican food. From the piece:

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Dropping the 'Americanized' nickname

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I've been catching up on my reading after a few busy days in Florida spent at the National Association of Hispanic Journalists convention, and among the great items I've sifted through is an interesting post on WAMU’s DCentric blog about ‘Americanized’ nicknames.

These are the first names that some immigrants and children of immigrants adopt, at least temporarily, to help them navigate mainstream America, the Henrys that take the place of Enrique, the Marys that replace Maria, the Western first names that replace Asian ones.

As adults, some people drop these and reclaim their given names - and DCentric blogger Elahe Izadi is among those who has done it.

In the post, she mentions the story of Fawaz Ismail, a Palestinian American recently featured in a Washington Post series on American Muslims enduring the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Growing up in Texas, Ismail was known to his friends as Tony. But in the wake of the anti-Muslim backlash that followed the attacks, he went back to Fawaz.

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