Tag Archives: Native American

Where are the native Americans ?

When I practiced neurology in Montana in the 70’s and 80’s I would have received some very strange looks from my Crow or Cheyenne patients if I called them ‘native Americans’.  They called themselves Indians and everyone else did too.  Clearly the definition has changed, so it may be OK if I change it again to mean someone who was born in the USA rather than abroad (like my two grandchildren born in Hong Kong).

I sometimes eat breakfast with an electrical engineering prof at the local diner.  I was interested in whether applications to grad school had fallen off.  He said they had.  I assumed that the fall off  was from the middle east, but he said his students were mostly from China and India.  Then he went on and said that Americans (by which I mean native Americans) simply weren’t going for higher degrees in engineering. This was completely different (in Chemistry at least) back in the early 60s.  Our whole cohort was US born and bred, except for one Sikh.  The postDocs were from all over — Scotland, Japan, India (particularly Sikh’s).


Well nearly 60 years is a long time, so I asked a family member EE PhD about it.  Here’s what he said

“I don’t have statistics from Berkeley grad school 1975-80, when I was there, but it certainly seemed like U.S.-born grad students were a minority — and a small one — in the EECS department.

One of the issues here is that in many cultures around the world, especially in developing countries, engineers sit at or near the top of the socio-economic heap. So bright students outside the U.S. want to become engineers while bright U.S.-born students want to become medical doctors and lawyers. I’ve heard various comments about this over the years from my foreign colleagues. They find it amusing that medical doctors and lawyers are so venerated here in the U.S.”
It is remarkable that there had been such a change in 15 years.  Granted that the engineers were mostly at MIT, most of the people I knew there in the 60s were American born.
So yesterday at Harvard Graduate Alumni Day, I asked for the (rough) percentage of foreign born grad students (in everything) and was told it was about 1/3.  Also that their applications were up.
This is good for Harvard, but if what is going on at the local State University is typical of the rest of the country it does not bode well for us. Back in the day, a friend said that the universal scientific language was broken English.  Of the 7 Nobels of the Harvard Chemistry department since the 60s, three (Bloch, Hoffmann, Karplus) were born abroad and got out because they were Jewish.  One hid in an attic for 18 months as a child.

The Harvard Chemistry Department Reunion — Part IV — setting the record straight

While waiting for my copy of the new edition of Clayden to arrive, it’s time to apologize to Harvard for the first post in the series, which mostly blamed them for the total absence of blacks in the 150+ attendees at the reunion. For details see –https://luysii.wordpress.com/2012/04/19/the-harvard-chemistry-department-reunion-part-i/.

Well, silly me, I didn’t realize blacks were there all the time.  My problem was not counting them the way Harvard people do.  Consider Harvard Law Professor and senatorial candidate Elizabeth Warren, listing herself as a minority (native American variety) because she is 1/32nd Cherokee thanks to her great great great grandmother who was (perhaps).  The Law School celebrated her appointment in ’95 as one of the few women in the Law School, and then a year or so later celebrated her native American heritage. ““Of 71 current Law School professors and assistant professors, 11 are women, five are black, one is Native American and one is Hispanic,” The Harvard Crimson quotes then-Law School spokesman Mike Chmura as saying in a 1996 article.

Given those criteria for blackness, I’m sure blacks were well represented at the chemistry reunion.  Apologies to all.

Professor Warren doesn’t look native American, but then neither did one of my late father’s clients, a nice lady from Staten Island who was of the Sally Hemings family, and very proud of it.

I’m well aware of people attempting to glom on to an Indian heritage.  It happened all the time in Montana when I lived there.    The people wanting to get such recognition were after the (fairly minimal) benefits of tribal membership.  They weren’t something you’d want to be related to.  Neither did the Crows or the Cheyenne’s (the two tribes I knew best).  They drew the line at 1/32; just where Ms. Warren claims to be presently — I don’t remember if 1/32 meant acceptance or rejection.  Suffice it to say, it was harder to bluff your way in to those tribes than it was to get into Burke’s peerage.

I doubt that Warren used this to get into any of the places she’s taught.  But the places she’s taught have certainly used it, which shows you how even the best ideas (making sure minorities with brains aren’t arbitrarily excluded) can be ruined.  This sort of thing can’t help the cause, and frankly it stinks.  For just how minority free the Ivy league was 50+  years ago see the link above.

One more example.  One of my son’s Cornell friends (Asian) used her minority status to get a job in D. C. after graduation.  She certainly wasn’t disadvantaged, having been exposed to some of the country’s (and the world’s) finest intellectual capital for 4 years.

P. S. Having lived in Montana from ’72 to ’87 and taken care of perhaps 1,000 Indians,  you would have received some rather strange looks from a Crow or a Cheyenne if you called them a ‘native American’.  They called themselves Indians back then.  Perhaps they still do. I don’t know. I haven’t been back.