When responding to the Census, more than five million Americans claim to be of Dutch descent. And they mostly are, at least a little. Now you might wonder how they compare with the Dutch back in the Netherlands: you might wonder about the relative academic or economic success of these two groups, which presumably have a common ancestry. But you would be wrong to do so. You would be comparing apples and House of Orangemen.
There were four or five different Dutch waves of settlement in this country. The first is pretty well-known, the Dutch colony in New York. Of course, it was only about half Dutch in origin: the rest were Walloons and French Huguenots. Lots of people have some ancestry from that group, including people I know. Why, if there was any justice, Henry Harpending would own a fine farm on Manhattan Island right now.
Of course, Henry isn’t all that Dutch. His surname is. He comes from an area of New York State that really did have some Dutch settlement. The thing is, white Protestants in this country have been intermarrying rather freely for several hundred years: it is rare to find someone in that category whose ancestors all come from one ethnicity. I would be surprised if Henry is 1/8th Dutch. In much the same way, my patrilineal lineage is Ulster Scot (who fears mention the battle of the Boyne!?) but the rest includes English, Welsh, Scottish, Green Irish, and a component that, I suspect, only became Dutch in 1918, and was Bavarian before that. We’re talking about ye olde Americans, not Ellis Island types. Not that they haven’t mixed as well, but less so…
There were later Dutch waves. Some moved to the Midwest in the 19th century , mainly for land but sometimes also for religious reasons. You find clumps in of them in Michigan and Iowa and Wisconsin. They haven’t been here as long, and probably aren’t so totally mixed – but I still think you’d have trouble finding many of them who were as much as 50% Dutch by ancestry. I have another good friend whose father came from that Iowa clump – although he himself grew up in Long Beach.
There was a post-WWII pulse out of Indonesia, about 60,000. Most of them were half-Indonesian – like Eddie Van Halen’s mother.
Most of the people who self-identify as Dutch-Americans are mostly something else. Why? Sometimes a family tradition, or a surname, but more than anything else, fashion.
Fashions change. For example, the fraction of Americans who report English ancestry has dropped drastically since 1980 – so much that so that you would have to wonder about secret death camps if you took it seriously. But it’s fashion. I looked at the census numbers for my home county, and then looked at the phone book: Census result was 20% English ancestry, real number was more like 80%. Of course this means that people in the US claiming a particular ethnicity can not only have limited ancestry from that group, but be oddly unrepresentative as well.
Sometimes those fashions have economic drivers. For several decades now, there have been racial favoritism policies (mostly governmental, partly private) : different admissions criteria for low-performing groups, different criteria for scholarships, business set-asides, casinos for Injuns, etc.
I know it’s shocking, but people game those things. They lie. Look at Foxwoods: I doubt if anyone involved is as much as 25% Amerindian. But if you make enough political contributions, you can probably be anything you want to be – even Klingon or Ruritanian. I remember an Italian-American schoolteacher who moved to San Diego and changed his name to Garcia: it was useful. I am reminded of a kid who was the star student at MIT’s ‘disadvantaged minority’ prep course one summer: he was 1/128th Potawotamie Indian. A credit to his race!
There are lots of people in New Mexico with both Hispanic/Mestizo and “Anglo” ancestry: there was a time in which it was probably useful to minimize your Hispanicness, but for the last 30 or 40 years, it has clearly been better to maximize it, which may make for an odd kind of population growth.. So if a kid’s mother (or grandmother) is from one of the old Hispanic families here, he can get a scholarship to the State U with a significantly lower score than my kids can. White man’s burden, I guess. Changing your name might help (Henry knows of a case or two, from when he was teaching in Albuquerque) but that is not really necessary. You can get Hispanic AA credit if your last name is Jensen. Nobody ever checks.
Of course, with genetic engineering on the horizon, someday we’ll see people actually switching their ethnicity (It’s Tuesday, I must be Belgian!) - or perhaps subtly exaggerating it. I am reminded of a certain Flannery I knew, who impressed me as being so Irish that he was barely even human.
Membership is not this fluid for every group in the US - and even if it is today, it may not have been until recently. Jews intermarry a lot today, particularly non-Orthodox Jews, but the rate was much lower in living memory – and far lower than that, back in Europe. Blacks really do average about 80% African ancestry – SNPs don’t lie. Out in the West, some Indian tribes really are pretty Indian.
If you want to make comparisons, you have to know your subject. You need to know something about this country. I wonder how many people do.