Traits of an American
American lawyer, Ed Koch once said “Stereotypes lose their power when the world is found to be more complex than the stereotype would suggest. When we learn that individuals do not fit the group stereotype, then it begins to fall apart.” Stereotypes made towards Americans, like “fattest country in the world” or “lazy” couldn’t be further from the definition of a true American. There are many definitions of what it means to be an American. Therefore.. LEAVE THIS FOR NOW AND COME BACK AFTER YOU DID THE BIGGER THINGS ( People have a fixed idea on immigrants and “the migrants are taking our jobs” they drive down wages” they are costing our country money, “they are only here for the benefits” ) Usually, when the words “American” or “to be American” come to mind, some people may see it as being able to have hope or a dream, a dream that could only be obtained in America. Being an American ultimately means that one is offered freedom as a given right and multiple opportunities through hard work.
In America when freedom is given to those who need it, a door to new chances open up. America, known as the land of opportunity, the country that draws attention to many, calls to others with the promise of freedom. Our National Anthem declares that the United States is “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” In Emma Lazarus’s poem, “The New Colossus,” she mentions a “golden door.” Gold is obviously a precious metal, and if this door is made of gold leading to a place, it can be inferred that it will lead to a new place to a start of a better life than they had before. What’s so life-changing about what lies behind this golden door? “The New Colossus” talks about immigrants coming to the United States and by making that move, they were presented with a second chance but most importantly, economic opportunity. Many of these newcomers came expecting to enhance themselves in ways that were not possible if they had stayed and not moved forward. This would have been seen as very precious to the immigrants. Therefore, in this poem the “golden door” is the start to various opportunities that were not possible in Europe but could be found in the United States.
However, hard work is needed in order to be able to achieve better opportunities. All immigrants, from the moment they step foot into this country, are offered the most basic opportunities. Unfortunately, residents of the United States tend to stereotype immigrants as intruders or even job-snatchers which shows how easy it is to forget how America was built on back-breaking labor. In “America and I”, the author Anzia Yezierska talks about her first job in America and the difficulties she faced: “My own money. Money to buy a new shirt on my back- shoes on my feet. Maybe yet an American dress and hat…’Wages? Money?’ the four eyes turned into hard stone as they looked me up and down. ‘Haven’t you had a comfortable bed to sleep? And three good meals a day? You’re only a month here.”(Yezierska 19) Although she worked for a month and had a job, she still wasn’t paid and was looked down on even after her hard work. Immigrants like Anzia Yezierska are willing to sacrifice their bodies to do work that Americans can’t or won’t do. To earn money it took sweat, effort, it was a 5000-calorie-a-day work, done by immigrants, prisoners, and slaves.
Seeing that immigrants did lots of work he word freedom has a magical connotation to it. Those immigrants came to America for it. It was their desire to be free in a land of opportunity. It was what they came after.
So what my idea was, was this: we can show that immigrants get a better pay after enduring all those days of hard work-kind of like after day by day, hard work pays of and you can use that money on whatever, because america is a free country, explaining freedom. That’s my idea so far to replace slavery for this paragraph.
What does it mean to be American? Historian Philip Gleason once said, ”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.” Essentially, what Gleason is saying is that all one has to do is act like an American and embrace the American way of life, but is this really what it means to actually be American? In this essay I will explore whether or not it is enough to embrace the culture, or if there is more to identifying yourself as an American by examining some key elements of American culture.
One of the big defining factors in terms of being an American is embracing the right of free speech. Outside of the United States, many people would say that Americans are loud and obnoxious, or perhaps if they were being a little kinder they might say that Americans can be very upfront! This is because freedom of speech is a big part of the American culture and citizens are very much encouraged to speak their mind and freely express their own opinions. This can seem a little overbearing in other cultures where this is not the norm, but once people realize that American’s are not being intentionally rude they often come to understand that it can actually be very useful to simply state what you mean, rather than try to be polite and end up making ambiguous statements. As Ghandi once said, ‘A “no” uttered from the deepest conviction is better and greater then a “yes” uttered to please, or what is worse, to avoid trouble.’ Freedom of speech is something that is so important to American culture that it is actually protected by The First Amendment to the United states Constitution, although of course there are restrictions! Freedom of speech does not give Americans the right to engage in hate speech. After all, another part of American life is the acceptance of various cultures and religions that may be different to your own.
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This leads us to the next important point – being American means that you are part of one of the most diverse cultures in the world. America is one of very few countries in the world where it is near impossible to define the nationality by one race, ancestry or religion. America is a melting pot of different cultures and religions and it is difficult to find anyone who does not come from immigrant bloodlines from Europe and Africa. In fact, some say that anyone not of Native American decent is actually not technically American! However, we do not use race or ancestry to determine what it means to be American. This is not what defines us, but rather our unique political, economic and social values. To drive home the fact that Americans are from all manner of backgrounds we need only look to the Great Seal of the United States which reads ”E pluribus unum”. This translates to English as From many, one. So, being American is not being of one particular race or religion. It may not even mean being born in the United States, taking the citizenship test and becoming a citizen can also make someone an American if they are able to fully embrace what America stands for.
When most people think of America, some of the first things that come to mind are words like freedom or liberty. We have already touched on this when taking about freedom of speech, but freedom and liberty are very important in the American culture and are a big part of what it means to be an American. American citizens have the freedom to live the lives that they choose and are passionate about retaining that right which so many of their predecessors have fought and died for.
In conclusion, to be American is not as simple as being born in the United States. To be an American is about embracing the culture and way of life. Americans can enjoy freedom of speech and are part of a diverse and rich culture. An American is someone who embraces freedom and liberty. In short, to be an American, it is necessary to embrace the culture and become a part of it regardless of where you were actually born!
Philip Gleason, “American Identity and Americanization,” in Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups, ed. Stephan Thernstrom (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 1980), 31–32, 56–57.