What does it mean to be the American citizen? Professor of history and famous historian Philip Gleason in his book American Identity and Americanization wrote:
”To be or to become an American, a person did not have to be any particular national, learning languages, religious, or ethnic background. All he had to do was to commit himself to the political ideology centered on the abstract ideals of liberty, equality, and republicanism. Thus the universalist ideological character of American nationality meant that it was open to anyone who willed to become an American.”
In essence, he says that to be an American you need to act like an American and follow American way of living. But what does it actually means to be an American today? In this essay, I decided to explore is it enough to support the culture and way of living to identify yourself as an American, and to prove my concept I will examine some key elements of modern American culture.
In his article What Does it Mean to be an American Jose Antonio Vargas analyzes the latest events took place in the USA till 2012 and underlines that being American is to fight for the country its freedoms and wellness. Vargas was among people who founded Define American organization which supports immigrants and their will to become an American. Yet, he doesn’t fully identify the main characteristics of being an American.
The first thing which is connected with being American is a democracy. American democracy is taught from the young age, and rights and liberties of each individual are taught with special attentiveness. Even we don’t have “democracy” word mentioned in the Constitution of the United States we are still following its most important principles. Franklin D. Roosevelt once said:
“Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.“
So being an American is follow and build a democratical society, respecting others life and attitude.
Tha part and parcel of democracy is the right of free speech. In other areas of the world, people say that Americans are used to speak about their issues aloud. The freedom of expression is a part of American culture and citizens’ nationwide can speak their mind and freely express their attitude and opinions. An opinion writer David Ignatius in his article about tolerance in WashigtonPost says:
“The Founding Fathers’ instructions were clear: The right to free speech includes bad speech; it means tolerance of ideas that many find obnoxious.”
American culture is built around freedom of expression and ability to speak about the issues even in a bad way is also a part of the culture we are striving to live in. Of course, life is more complicated, and there are cases when you obviously cannot speak freely. But these cases are more personal and emotional. Yet, freedom of speech is an important part of each citizen life, and it is protected by The First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
However, because American culture is a mix of various cultures and religions we need to avoid to speak hate speech against others, with zero tolerance for other nations, religions, color of skin or sex. The right to freedom of expression is the notion beyond racial or gender oppression.
As it comes from the above passage, living in America and being an American means to be the part of society which consists of numerous cultures and traditions. In America, it is not possible to define nationality taking into account only religion, ancestry or race. America is a mix of different religions and cultures, and it is very complex to find immigrants without roots in Europe and Africa. However, we cannot exclude from our society Native Americans, i.e. Indians who lived on these lands for hundred years before the colonization. But it is not a good practice to determine if you are an American based on the race or culture. Either our political, social and economic values cannot define us as Americans. Great Seal of the United States reads “E pluribus unum,” which means in English: “From many, one.” This leads me to the conclusion that being an American is not being a part of particular religion or race, it doesn’t mean to born here, you may come here and become an American. The person needs just understand the value of America and its society, and the value is freedom and liberty. Any person from any culture is free to live here; he or she has the same rights as others and support this right, which took a lot of lives away when our society fought for it.
To sum up, being an American is not live or be from the United States. Being an American is connected with embarrassing the society culture and way of living. Americans are the people who enjoy their freedom and ready to fight for it. America is the country which mixes numerous cultures, religions, and minds where each person is free to live and speak about things he or she is worried about. America is the place where anyone does have an influence because it is the democratic society. And being an American is to respect your rights and the rights of others, respect cultures and religions it mixes up and love the country which we are all building. And if you want to be an American, no matter where you were born you need to understand that being an American is not just living here:
“This nation will remain the land of the free only so long as it is the home of the brave.” (World War II Director of the United States Office of War Information Elmer Davis)
Gleason, P. (1980). American Identity and Americanization. [online] Available at: https://books.google.com.ua/books/about/American_Identity_and_Americanization.html?id=tkA2YAAACAAJ&redir_esc=y [Accessed 18 Dec. 2016].
Ignatius, D. (2016). A testing year for American tolerance — and it may get worse. [online] Washington Post. Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/what-does-free-speech-mean-today/2016/04/07/5ae60ee6-fcf9-11e5-80e4-c381214de1a3_story.html?utm_term=.2cf57bdbd91a [Accessed 18 Dec. 2016].
Presidency.ucsb.edu. (2016). Franklin D. Roosevelt: Message for American Education Week.. [online] Available at: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=15545 [Accessed 18 Dec. 2016].
Profis, M. (2016). 9 Patriotic Quotes That Will Make You Proud to Be an American. [online] Country Living. Available at: http://www.countryliving.com/life/g1841/patriotic-quotes/?slide=1 [Accessed 18 Dec. 2016].