Being American has varying definitions, depending on who you ask. Did you ask someone who’s entire family was murdered by American troops sent into their county? They will most likely say Americans are dirty murderers who have no respect and are all psychopaths, or something of the sort. Did you ask a random white guy in the middle of Dallas, Texas? They will probably say they Americans are patriotic, scientific geniuses, who are leading the world in every department. To me, being an “American” means someone who lives in the United States, because the country was founded on the basis that it would be a sanctuary for the oppressed of all lands. Russel Means Speech to the Senate in 1989, examines how this promise made to the oppressed people was broken, and how we are altering what it means to be “American”. “American Indians are human beings. We are supposed to be citizens of the United States of America. We fought in your wars…”(Russel Means, 1989). Here, the speaker talks about the wrongdoing to the Native Americans, who lived here before we even knew this continent existed. The only remaining Native Americans have been forced to assimilate to our type of agriculture and government. This is important to what it means to be American, because the whole premise of America was to be the “mixing pot” where everyone could be themselves, but we are contradicting this by pushing these people out, just for having a different style of government.
I believe, in the near future, “American” should represent the idea that everyone is included. The poor, the rich, regardless of skin color, religion, or levels of patriotism, all should be allowed in. Tegan Griffith describes what the ideals of a true “American” are to her. The video titled “Marine Life in the Midwest” from the show “American Creed” tells the story from the perspective of a family that has a close relation to the US Marines. This life they’ve lived, in a small, rural, midwestern town, has lead them to believe that being “American” is linked to patriotism. Tegan Griffith said something along the lines of being American, was related to serving your country in it’s time of need (I apologize, I cannot find the exact quote). I disagree with this ideology, that one must love America to be American, because I believe there are people who can completely disagree with everything America stands for morally and politically, and still be labeled as an American. For example, I am an Anglo-Saxon person with a Californian accent, which alone, would most likely mark me as an “American”, but I am completely un-involved in politics, would never, under nearly any circumstances join the military, making me not an American in Tegan Griffith’s eyes. I hope in the future, people should be labeled as part of this country solely based on the length at which one has lived, or have been living in the United States of America as opposed to how patriotic one is.
American literature in my opinion, has a completely separate meaning than being American. I believe American literature is a work of writing that has been popularized in American media, such as Shakespeare, or even any current popular music or book titles. The opening to the show “The Newsroom” gives an overly generic answer to the question “why do you think America is the best country in the world?” saying, “…our constitution was a masterpiece… [and] the Declaration of Independence is for me, the greatest piece of American writing.” (The Newsroom). Even though this was meant to be a generic, go to answer, it’s still important in showing, that these pieces of writing, are known as great American literature. They’re taught all around the world, and are known by almost everyone who’s gone to school. This supports my definition of American Literature: Popular pieces of literature, widespread around the US, whether it be Shakespeare’s Macbeth, or Katy Perry’s Roar, it is all included in American Literature.
Means, Russell. “Statement to the Senate Special Committee on Indian Affairs” 30 January 1989, Washington, D.C. American Rhetoric Online Speech Bank.
“Marine Life in the Midwest: Tegan Griffith.” Facing History and Ourselves, www.facinghistory.org/resource-library/video/marine-life-midwest-tegan-griffith.
Taube, Jeff. “Why America Isn’t the Greatest Country in the World Anymore.” YouTube, YouTube, 18 Sept. 2012, www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZPHSXUS0_1c.
What Does It Mean To Be American? by Jasper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.