What is an American?
America is constituted by people from different backgrounds and origins. Most of us, the Americans, have our ancestry originating outside this continent. The question ‘Who is an American?’ has always been asked. Is being an American equal to being a citizen of America? Are there qualities or traits that define us? We know of Englishmen, Italians, Germans, Indian and so on. But what is being an American? What do we have in common that is so unique to give us an identity?
This Question, on what is an American, has been in the mind of many philosophers. Many have tried to understand what being an American is. Many of the American residents are immigrants. The only people who can talk of America as their native land are the Native Americans who were formally known as Red Indians. But even the Red Indians have intermarried with immigrants to make a totally different constitution.
How then can we define ourselves? Is it by our origin, thus, African American, Latino American and so on? No! we need a definition that can accommodate all of us at the same time. Is it by our wealth, education or status or is it by our religion? No! The poor and the rich are all Americans. There are Catholics and Protestants who are Americans. There are Muslims, Indians and even those that do not associate with any religion. All of us are Americans irrespective of our religions.
What is American?
Can we define who an American is by his color? What is the color of an American? American consists of the whites, the reds and the blacks. Thus we cannot define ourselves by the color of our skin. An American color could be one of the many color found in America. What about his size? There is no specific size of an American. Some Americans are short, others are tall, and others are big while others are small. What is the language of Americans? Our America is consisted of immigrants; whether they came a century ago or a decade ago. The truth is that ours is a land of immigrant. All of us had our own languages. Those who came from France spoke French; those from México Mexican, those from Israel spoke Hebrew. What then is an American language? All these languages define us, they constitute what we are. An American then is not an American by the skin of his color, his size nor his language.
Chinese have a Chinese culture, African are proud of their cultures. Do we Americans have our original culture? When other nations display their work of arts dating back to 400AD, what do we display? We are no defined by such works of art nor such old cultures. No our land is new, our culture new and our definition different. A Chinese American with all his culture is an American; the same with a German American. Ours is a land of many cultures and different back grounds.
We talk of African American, Latino American, Chinese American but are these definitions right? How many of us consider ourselves as German, Mexican, or African American? We only consider ourselves as Americans. None of us today can consider ourselves as purely originating fro a certain part of the world. There have been intermarriages that have given us a totally different identity. Intermarriages have been between people of different culture, origins, religion and races. These intermarriages has given us different identity. We are a nation that has left its ancient stereotypes. We are proud as American, not because of our origin, history or culture but because of our common values. Every one of use contributed to the culture of our nation.
Some of our fore fathers came as Calvinist, others as Catholics, others as Lutheran while others came as Quakers. Some of them had their own traditional believes and way of worship. Some came as Muslims, Indians and others as Buddha. A Catholic, with his teaching, married a Calvinist. Some Catholicism and some Calvinism are passed down to their children. Some of their children get married to a Quaker with his own way of worship and teaching. What is the religion of their children? This is how we are we are a nation of multiplicity. With this entire dilemma we can still define ourselves.
What is American?
We are American by our common experience in a new land; by the value and principles that we have acquired through these experiences, the values of hard work, hospitality and respect for human dignity. Our multiplicity gives us our definition.
Our land is a land of immigrants; we are all new to the land. When we came we had our own experiences. We struggled to settle and make a living. We had to learn to live in a new place and to live with new people. Some of our prejudices had to be abandoned, at the same time, we had to learn new way of life. We learnt that our former way of thinking and doing thing was not always right. We had to review our former believes and, thus, take the best of it that would help us live well in our new land. We had to respect believes and different way of life of others. We learnt to compromise but at the same time assert for our rights. We learnt to value what is important; that which would be for our common good.
Our fore fathers came to a virgin land; a land that had not been exploited. The land had no road networks or basic infrastructures. It was dangerous to live in such a land. They had to be brave and hard working. Through their hard work they cultivated land, built road, made house and built cities. In spite of their origins, all of them had to drip sweat as they worked hard to make their lives better.
Each of our fore fathers had left their relative and friend. In the new land they had to learn to be independent. They had to believe on their abilities. There was no help to wait for but they had to do things by themselves. At the same time they learned to trust other people. They learned to ask for help when they need to.
There were diseases to be fought, large tracks of land to be cultivated roads to constructed and farm products to be transported. We had to look for better and easier ways of doing things.
What is American?
Through these challenges we learnt to be innovative and initiative. Today we are proud of what America has contributed to the development of the world. It is these values that we acquired at that time that enables us to do all these.
Some people accuse us of indifference. We are not indifferent; we look at things from a different perspective. We had to learn to live with people from different cultures, history, believes and religions. We had to learn to live with the blacks, the white the reds and all sorts of colors and races. We had to learn to live with people of different accents and languages. At the same time we had our way of life which we wanted to retain. We had to question our way of life and that of others. This “indifference” defines us.
Our experiences as immigrants, where we would be in a new place and needing help, made us to hospitable. We had experienced the state of need. We know what is to be in needed. As our fore father came they were welcomed by those they met. They were given accommodation and taken care of. Through these experiences they developed the value of helping .They developed the value of generosity, both in material and immaterial things. Today Americans are known by the way they are willing intervene wherever there are problems. We are Americans by how ready we are to sacrifice some of what we have so as others may as well benefit.
As a nation made of people from different back ground, we learnt to look at human being from a different perspective. We had to overcome our prejudices and stereotype. In the new land there were many opportunities. The opportunities were equally available to every one. New immigrants who worked in other people’s farms were treated as equal and they started to feel as such. We learnt to view human person from a different perspective. We see others as equally gifted as we. We have learnt to value other people’s talent and gift. From these unsuppressed talents and gift America has the best scientists and musicians in the world.
From our experience we had to respect the human dignity. We learnt to listen and respect other people’s perspectives and thus we developed the value for freedom and democracy. The American dream has been freedom for all. This value for human dignity burns in every
What is American?
Our common experience, in this new land, is what gives us identity. Our experiences in the fight for independence, our common joys and sufferings became our pillar. The multiplicity of our cultures is our pride. Within our borders are found the best of the world. Our values of hard work, respect for human dignity and our generosity gives us the drive to face any challenges. As American we identify ourselves with these values and each one of us works hard to uphold them. When the values are not respected we assert ourselves and question. We ask for an answer, we can’t sit and watch when what we treasure is being stepped on. As a people we experience our suffering together. Neither religion nor political affiliation can divide us but together we stand as Americans.
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