It was very common when I was a child for those around me to use their culture of origin as the label to identify themselves. Those who had lived their whole lives in the USA would say, I’m Cuban or Puerto Rican or Mexican or African or Haitian or Irish or Scottish or whatever. I was never able to do that. My grandfather used to say I was a Heinze 57 because I could list at least 8 different countries of decent depending on how far back you wanted to go with my family tree and which branch you choose to follow. I find the ethic question on job applications very troubling. I look white and don’t speak any other language than English, but my Grandmother was born in Cuba. If I mark that I am Hispanic than I get a phone call from some Spanish-speaking person who I can’t understand and who often gets offended that I neither speak Spanish nor seem Hispanic in any way. When forced to answer these stupid ignorant surveys I must say that I am white even though it says non-Hispanic in parenthesis just so that I can be treated culturally the way I actually live my life. Yet, I have Hispanic tastes and cultural influences. Why must I feel like I am lieing either way? I grew up feeling confused because I didn’t have a label that fit me very well.
This is the gift that living in Scotland gave to me. When I went over seas to live and when someone asked me where I was from, I was able to quickly say, “I’m an American.” No lie, no fudging, no confusion. Sometimes I was very proud the country I had come from. Some times I was a bit embarrassed, but either way, I owned it and I know it was who I was.
The USA was a melting pot of cultures. People coming from all over the world to build something. That dream from immigrants to the USA lives inside of me. Racism that tend to come up from one group towards another also lives in me from the German American ancestor who was hated during WWII to the railroad men who lived on the wrong side of the tracts and the pirate whose ancestry we can’t prove. Then there are my the Cuban ancestors who had rocks thrown at them while riding to school in the school bus and the questionable possibly Cajun ancestor who claimed no such title. American history lives in me, both the good and the bad.
Without even going to the past, I am American not just because I was born here, but because I partake of the corporate character of America. I am a hard-working, do-it-yourself pioneer. I am part of the freedom of religion to be a Christian according to my convictions and the denomination of my choice. I am a product (good or bad) of our schools. I love our Constitution and our founding-fathers and participate in the continual open debates of where our country should be going. I admire our very American artist who created unique art forms such as our heritage in Jazz, Blues, and Country music and our painters such as Georgia O’Keeffe, Edward Hopper, Jackson Pollock, and Norman Rockwell.
Yes, I do get annoyed by America too. Some days I am tired of living here, but even if I were to move, I would still be an American. American culture is the conversation I wrestle with. It is the mix of ideas that I am conversant with. I can refuse to participate in the American materialism or turn my back on the constant urge to be “busy” which really means unfocused, nervous energy and intensity, but American culture is my starting point in which I go towards or away. It is my label.
When I go to Europe and I am asked to give an account for the choices of my country, whether or not I agreed with them. Some Americans apologize for our country to the world, and some may even disown it and give up their citizenship. Problems and embarrassments aren’t unique to Americans. All countries have mixed histories and embarrassments. Germany and Japan are some ways driven to succeed because of their embarrassment over WWII. I am not very happy with the US government today or the direction our country is going. I also get annoyed at the constant fearfulness of our people. I am so completely tired of the hateful things that get said about the poor, the unemployed, the rich, the entrepreneurs, immigrants, the republicans, the democrats, the conservatives, and the liberals, the tea party, the tree-huggers, homosexuals, Christians, and pretty much anyone who thinks differently in our politics, our Facebook posts, and our daily conversations. Yet, I would not give up my American citizenship nor allow others to speak badly about my country.
I believe in the American people as much as I believe in my own family. I may fight and argue with family members and even need distance from them at times, but I still love them. I still believe in what they could be. I still see the good from the past that defines who we are. Americans give the most money than any country in the world towards charities and foreign aid. Americans are inventors, creators, leaders, and survivors. Americans believe in justice and human rights. The teaching of Jesus Christ, even if our church attendance is going down, still defines our cultural sense of right and wrong. We are still a young nation with a very real wildness to our culture.
Our land is untamed and terrible in its extremes. The soft domesticated wilderness of Europe and the UK do not compare to the intensity of our wilderness. Our storms, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, snowstorms, wildfires, floods, and disasters are extreme, massive, and regular. This has created a toughness and resilience in our culture that is hard to really explain. While other countries talk about cultural open-mindedness while living in unofficially segregated neighborhoods, the USA lives this cultural blend every day. Other countries look to the USA for leadership while sometimes loving us and sometimes hating us. We rose from nothing to the largest economy in the world (twice that of the next in line, China) by hard work. The rise and fall of our people affects the entire world in ways that many Americans never realize. We, in all of our ways, refine, sand, and test our citizens which produces something unique in each individual. Even in this, I find that I am very American.
This 4th of July will be the first in four years that I have celebrated actually in the USA. This time, I will really feel deep down that I am not only celebrating the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, but also celebrating my heritage, my family, and my identity.
I am an American.