Ideas, Uncategorized

What’s an American?

This is a question that has been bothering me for a while. Literally anyone who’s ever lived here had roots from somewhere else. Yes, even the Native Americans. (Think about it, they had to get here somehow.) I’m curious. At what point does your background stop mattering and your present life begins to define you? Take African-Americans, for instance. African or American? How are they African if they don’t know and can’t really reconnect with Africa? I often feel strange calling myself American when America only just started speaking somewhat friendly towards us. But what else can I call myself? The past is too far back for me to adopt it. Take Native Americans. They were here, presumably first. They certainly didn’t call themselves Americans for, America is derived from an Italian name (and they probably weren’t Italian…right?). They came from somewhere. When did they stop defining themselves as where they came from and start to define themselves by their current tribe/location? The Pilgrims, too. First they were English, then they grew distant with the old country and became American. Why would anyone stop seeing themselves as where they came from? At a certain point, does the past fade away into an irrelevance so deep that a whole new identity must be forged? If the decision was based on the moment, as were the formation of several denominations, then is it only made based on conflict as children who run away from their families (or, more subtly, go far far away to college) change their names and, thus, changing their identities. Abraham, even, had this experience. According to Genesis, God told him [he was named Abram at the time]to leave his extended family and parents and move away in order to the patriarch of a new nation. His name was changed a while later, to Abraham and he had no further contact with his old family. They were an old nation, he was starting a new one. Here, the point is well defined. The record has been found and remains extant and easily accessible to the public. Other stories have been lost, never told, never survived time, or were never found (archaeology has its limits, guys). What I want to know lies the present. I’m concerned with what an American is and if, or how, the current ideas should be modified. Race or ethnicity obviously should not characterize ‘American’ but what else can? How else do 313.9 million people feel like they’re all connected by an overarching theme or even the skeleton of a basic culture that not only gives other cultures some space but also gives us a common ground? Is this even possible?

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