What It Means to Be an American Essay Example
Most Americans never bother to stop and think about what exactly makes them American. Yet, many scholars, writers, and other people who have authority in the issue, as well as actors, singers, and even pro wrestlers – someone who is clearly expert in other, vaguely related fields, often delve into discussing this issue. Notably, in most cases, their answers differ. Often, they are downright polar. This polarity illustrates just how essential it is to keep addressing the issue of our cultural identity. The most general and comprehensive answer to the question “What does it mean to be American?” was given by the history scholar Philip Gleason in his notable article “American Identity and Americanization” which he wrote for the Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups. In his article, Gleason states that to consider him- or herself American, a person does not need to come from any particular locality or any particular ethnic, religious, or linguistic background. Instead, American identity is all about adopting and accepting the American ideology which centers on the ideals of freedom, equality, and republicanism, as your own. So, technically, anyone willing to be an American is fully capable of becoming one. All they have to do is embrace the mentioned ideals and live the American way of life. Is it as simple as that? Let's consider some of our cultural aspects and see for ourselves.
If we ask people from most other countries about what they can say about Americans, they will most likely say that Americans are extremely straightforward – if our respondents choose to put it mildly. If they choose to be nearly as straightforward as they see us, they may use stronger words – such terms as “obnoxious,” “arrogant,” “loud’, etc. Americans may seem like this to people from other cultures because we are used to speaking our minds, which is a direct consequence of our celebrated freedom of speech. Throughout our lives, we are encouraged to speak our minds. Even our education system is largely focused on writing lots of essays where we have to express our opinions on all sorts of subjects, which assures us that what we have to say on any given subject is indeed valuable. Unfortunately, not all countries in the world share this tradition, and this is why people from other cultures may see Americans the way they do. This impression, however, only lasts until they come to realize that the reason for our straightforwardness is not intentional impoliteness but rather our habit of free speech. Once they realize it, they agree that it is, in fact, a great thing to just speak your mind as opposed to being afraid to hurt someone’s feelings and saying something utterly polite, yet vague and meaningless. Even Mahatma Gandhi stated that a sincere “no” is, by all means, better than a hypocritically polite “yes” solely aimed at avoiding some hypothetical problems. Returning to America, it is needless to remind that our freedom of speech is protected by our Constitution – namely, the First Amendment. It is so habitual for us that many people abuse it to the degree of resorting to hate speech. This downside is particularly topical today because another crucial aspect of being an American is embracing the diversity.
Our great nation is called a melting pot for a reason. It was forged by the immigrants who have come to these shores by different paths and brought their custom and traits from their cultural backgrounds with them. There are Native Americans who form the indigenous population of our country, but they make up for a comparatively small percentage of our overall population. Most people who live here can trace their ancestry to immigrants from Europe, Africa, Asia, and Latin America. This is why we cannot determine a sole ethnicity or religion, and instead choose faithfulness to American social, political, and economic ideals and values as the essential feature that defines a person as an American. This is dubbed by the words inscribed on the Great Seal of the United States: “E Pluribus Unum,” which translates from Latin as “Out of many, one” or “From many, one.” Truly, being an American is not about belonging to a particular ethnicity or religion, and not even about being born in this country. It is about sharing our ideals and values that make this country what it is.
For my final point, I will once again address the common outsiders’ perception of America. If you ask them about their first association with the country, many of them will name the Statue of Liberty (who is, by the way, also an immigrant, as we know). It is much more than a picturesque landmark that stands there to please the eye. It stands for liberty as our prime national ideal. I have already discussed freedom of speech. Crucial as it is, speech is only one of our freedoms that together result in the overall sense of liberty that every American has. This sense of freedom is the most essential factor shaping our cultural identity, its very base. Contrary to the ideas expressed in much of our literature, this liberty was not God-given – thousands of our ancestors had to live, work, and die for it so that we could enjoy it today. This is why we cherish it so much and put it in the center of our culture and why the Statue of Liberty is our most famous symbol.
To sum it all up, I can conclude that – unlike in many other countries – being an American is not about being born and raised in a particular locality and cultural environment. Our cultural identity goes deeper and is more complicated than that. To be an American is to adopt the American values and ideals of freedom and acceptance. This is what can get any person, regardless of his or her cultural or any other background, to embrace our rich culture, to enjoy liberty and all the other perks of the American lifestyle, and to contribute to our diversity in a mutually beneficial way.