American Identities | Teen Ink

American Identities

September 21, 2023
By MonaHuang BRONZE, Charlotte, North Carolina
MonaHuang BRONZE, Charlotte, North Carolina
2 articles 0 photos 0 comments

What is an American? Throughout the history of the U.S., this question has raised numerous debates.The reason such controversy is often related with this topic is the complexity of the definition. In order to define an American, one must have a basic understanding of American society, including its promises and its grievances. While most Americans enjoy the guaranteed freedom of expression and tolerance of diverse cultures, some struggle from prejudices they face, particularly against ethnic minorities and immigrants.  

In the national anthem of the U.S, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” America was described as “the land of the free.” Founding fathers of America believed that liberty is a natural right granted by God, and no government has the power to take this right away from its citizens. As Americans, people enjoy the freedom of expression that is not granted in most countries in the world.  In the U.S Constitution, the freedom of expression, or the ability “to say what one pleased, how and when one pleased, and to whom” (Bejan), is listed as the first right protected.   The U.S government is prohibited from “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to [petition the Government for a redress of grievances” (“The Preamble”). The freedom of expression is the right that allows Americans to share their beliefs and thoughts with others; it is the right that encourages Americans to engage in passionate and sometimes controversial discussions, and it is the right that makes Americans not afraid to point out problems that exist in society and challenge authorities.Thus, the right to freedom of expression is viewed as the essential factor that shaped American identity. 

The protection away from religious persecution and granting the right to freedom of expression have always been a massive attraction to migrants and asylum-seekers all around the world to enter America. Crévecoeur, an eighteenth century writer, had coined the term “melting pot” to describe America. Without the fear of government suppression, immigrants from all over the world brought along their rich cultures and traditions as ingredients and added them into this pot named America. This legacy of rich ethnic diversity has shaped modern day American society.  If one goes to any metropolis in the U.S, one is expected to see a variety of ethnic neighborhoods, such as Chinatown, Little Havana, and Little Italy. Every year, people all across the country celebrate festivals that have significant meaning to them.  Those festivals may be a part of their religion, such as Hanukkah and Diwali, or it may be part of their tradition, like Chinese New Year.  Nevertheless, all these different practices are tolerated and praised in America by every ethnic group.  Thus, to be an American is to “[leave behind one’s] ancient prejudices and manners” (Crévecoeur) and to have a heart that tolerates and respects all diverse cultures that exist in American society.   

However, this richness of heritage from different cultures is not appreciated by all Americans.  Many native-born Americans have viewed immigrants as a threat to take away their jobs. Although many immigrants “are not taking jobs away from Americans but doing jobs Americans won’t do” (Barnett). Many businesses take advantage of immigrants, especially those undocumented and those that did not receive higher level education, and use them as a source of cheap labor. When immigrants stand up to defend their rights and “[begin] striking for better wages, they [are] no longer welcomed” (Noda) by those industries.  Besides the hostility attitudes from xenophobic nativists, immigrants also faced the challenge from tightened U.S immigration policy.  Nearly half of undocumented  immigrants came to the U.S legally, but overstayed their visa due to the excessively hard process of becoming a U.S citizen (Barnett).  However, these difficulties do not seem to apply equally to all immigrants.  Those who are “white” and/or already speak English seemed more likely to be accepted by American nativists and more easily to assimilate into American societies. Whereas those immigrants who are ethnic minorities struggle to create a sense of belonging in this country even after several generations: “A third-generation German-American is an American. A third-generation Japanese American is a Japanese American” (Noda).  Racial discrimination is not only faced by immigrants, but also many native-born Americans.  As depicted in the photograph “World’s Highest Standard of Living” by Margaret Bourke-White, economic opportunities are not equally offered for all ethnic groups.  White Americans, especially men, enjoyed much more chance to make in top executives of corporations and earn higher wages.  Compared to White men’s highest average earnings, “the highest average earnings for Black men at more than $20,000 less” (Hunter), and “only 8 percent of "C-suite" executives - the highest corporate leaders, often those reporting to the CEO - are Black” (Jan).  If an ethnic minority wants to achieve financial success, it will be much harder for him or her compared to a white counterpart. Everyone receives opportunities in the country, but some receive more than the others.   

All in All, America is not the utopia that many hoped it would.  It has its own guarantees and its challenges . Likewise, Americans, like people in all other countries, do not have a perfect life. Americans appreciate their ability to freely express their opinions and share their beliefs, and practice their traditions, but struggled in the battle fighting against racial prejudice. Being an American, is to praise the rights one enjoys while realizing the dark side of society and ought to improve it.

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