I can’t help wondering how much Romney has studied the history of European, African, Latin American and Asian populations in the United States; the political circumstances of their arrivals; and their intermingling. And I wonder what he would make of the mysteries of American ancestry. For example, when Penn State University molecular biologist Mark D. Shriver gathered DNA samples from thousands of Americans, he found that roughly 30 percent of white Americans have African ancestry. (To his surprise, he was one of that group.)
Romney ended last week with a very different trip, tonally — to Jerusalem, to speak to an Israeli audience. Despite the fact that President Obama far leads him in domestic and international polls of who is stronger on foreign policy, Romney criticized the president for weakening the relationship with Israel and called Jerusalem the true capital of Israel (although, in a long-standing dispute, Palestinians also claim the city, and the U.S. Embassy is thus in Tel Aviv). He’s come under fire again, this time from Palestinian leaders, for a speech in which he compared the “economic vitality” of Israel and Palestine and suggested that Israeli culture makes it a more successful country.
But whether we are talking about ethnicity, race or religion, America exists because different world cultures made one powerful nation. Some of Romney’s ancestors came to the United States in order to seek opportunity. Others subsequently left for Mexico when they could no longer practice the historical, polygamous form of Mormonism in the United States.
Mitt Romney’s own family history points out the dynamic complexities of national identity. Is it too much to expect that he reflect, in his campaigning, an understanding of what this nation really is — who all of us, from all our parentages and religious backgrounds, really are? That is to say: Americans.
Farai Chideya is a journalist, author, and Distinguished Writer in Residence at New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute.