Thursday, April 29, 2010


This last April 6th was Tartan Day in the United States and Canada – the recognition and celebration of all that is Scottish and the contributions that Scots have made to the development and evolution of North America. The date commemorates the signing and sealing of the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320 by much of the Scottish Nobility (including one of my Family heroes Sir Edward Keith) and witnessed by King Robert the Bruce.

Tartan Day is celebrated in Australia, New Zealand on July 1 the date of the repeal of the Act of Proscription on July 1, 1782 which effectively banned many native Scottish customs including the wearing of the kilt and the playing of the pipes following the defeat of the Scots by the English at Culloden in 1746. We have come a long way since… The Scots – mostly those awa from the auld sod now have a formal day to celebrate their heritage. Coupled with St. Andrews Day, the myriad celebrations of Robert Burns’ birthday, Kirkin’ of the Tartan services and even with the almost unique annual celebration of Hogmanay, we now have suitable representation in the pantheon of national cultural festivities.

Though some have maintained that the eloquent Arbroath Declaration technically wasn’t a declaration of independence (Scotland was already independent) it certainly was tantamount to that and is perceived by most Scots as an assertion/affirmation and declaration of Scottish sovereignty and rejection of England’s continuing attempt to subjugate their Kingdom. The influence of that document has been widespread and was known to have been part of the spirit and deliberations of the Founding Fathers in the United States when they were crafting the US Declaration of Independence.

“As long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom -- for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.’

The Declaration of Arbroath was based on the premise that Man has a right to freedom and a duty to defend it with his life. This was an appeal to the then Pope who had earlier (1305) ceded Scotland to Edward I of England – something to do with the Maid of Norway. Edward was merrily inclined to keep stirring the pot and fully intended to ultimately subjugate Scotland. The Longshanks quote from the most popular 1995 movie Braveheart, “The problem with Scot Land is that it’s full of Scots” and delivered so eloquently by the late American born though essentially Irish/English actor Patrick McGoohan pretty much sums up the attitude of the English who were bent on conquering all of “their” island. If you fast forward to the 21st century that conclusion is very much in doubt. In a historical “blink” the ultimate dissolution of what was the United Kingdom remains a given.

So, what the heck does this have to do with Tartan Day aside from my predictable penchant for upping anything Scottish? First, it acknowledges that for a variety of reasons the migration of a myriad of diverse cultural groups to what would become United States of America and punctuates our ever prevailing penchant for and acceptance of an invited multicultural, pluralist rationale. In case you haven’t noticed the melting pot is close to being officially DEAD. We have evolved (and thankfully progressed) to mainstream perspectives that embrace the opportunity to retain a spark of our former selves and our cultures of origin. We can embrace our individualism as part of a more important whole that allows us to be us.

Some rabid and apparently very scared Americans feel that we need to totally homogenize ourselves into some American cultural gumbo where we are required to lose our individual and cultural identities less even than some alphabet soup. To embrace your culture of origin is traitorous. That which was our strength now becomes a skewed rationale of a “Diversity Dogma” and some harbinger of doom.

The distinguished diplomat, Koïchiro Matsuura, former Director-General of UNESCO takes the role of pluralism one step further, “Cultural diversity is therefore in itself a pre-condition for attaining mutual understanding and harmony in a multicultural world.”

While now almost trite, I earnestly believe our strength is in our diversity and the fact that we have attracted the best of many lands to our shores with the hope of opportunity and a better life. That’s what keeps people charging our borders, wanting to be part of our great experiment. Many of my northern European ancestors were here when we formally parted company with the English. They came here to escape tyranny and oppression and to create new opportunities for themselves and their Families. Has anything really changed? Not really…

All this comes at a cost of an even greater vigilance and doesn’t insinuate that we dwell on our origins to the detriment of our new home. As an ever evolving modern immigrant nation we need to keep it all in perspective. I am an American of Scottish origins and damned proud of that fact. I understand the concerns of the sometimes rabid hyphenated sensitive who fear that to allow such celebrations will encourage the failure to assimilate. While I guess some folks might fail to do so on someone else’s time line, that shouldn’t prompt us to rewrite or ignore the history books.

So I say if you have Native American, Irish, Yoruba, Sami, Dogon, Pole, Norse, Rus, Vietnamese, Greek, Mexican, Scot, Indian, Italian, Mende or Japanese or other origins and you are so inclined, be proud and stand tall and embrace your heritage as one part of the whole we call the United States of America. Otherwise, we might be forced to forego any and all cultural celebrations and holidays including St. Patrick’s Day and among others, Tartan Day where the Scots will ultimately find themselves again reduced to touching Tartan swatches and engaging
puirt à beul (mouth music) to mime the pipes and preserve their heritage for more hospitable days…


Ned Buxton

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