What does it mean to be “American”? | Teen Ink

What does it mean to be “American”?

December 2, 2007
By Anonymous

Millions of people walk the street everyday in a place called The United States of America. From those several million, more than half will refer to themselves as Americans; however, the remaining still consider themselves a part of the country in which they were born- only now citizens of America. The diversity in these fifty states of the U.S.A. is insurmountable, and the evolution to form this unity is a notable progression. Though the term “American” can refer to such a wide array of items, each person’s individual definition reflects the multiplicity of thoughts in just one nation.

As an American citizen of full Indian origin, this controversial topic has been brought up many times. The dictionary definition of “American” states: (adjective) of or pertaining to the United States of America. (Noun) 1.) A citizen of the United States of America. 2.) The English language used in the United States of America. Neither of these specifies what it truly means to be called an “American”. To some, the term refers to a Caucasian person, with lighter skin and more common features. To others it’s used as simply a reference to where they live, or to which government they have voting rights to. And to a different group, they may believe being born in America makes one an American. The
possibilities of usage with such a sensitive yet malleable word bring many to discussion.

There is a countless number of ways one can become a dictionary definition “American.” One can become a citizen of the United States of America by applying, getting interviewed, and taking a brief test on the history of one’s state and new nation. Those who classify Caucasians as “Americans” are creating a new stereotype. Each person in this world has originated from somewhere; some may still live where their ancestors were born, while others may have moved to places like America through immigration and in search of a better life. By living in America, does one give up the title of one’s true nationality? All people with “white” skin can trace back their family tree and see that they are French, Italian, Swiss, Dutch, or many others. If being “white” makes one American, are the French people in France also American? Or is it based on one’s language? English is one of the most widely spoken and studied languages in the world. If every person who spoke English was considered American, over ¾ of the world’s population would be categorized as American!

Genes, heredity, and DNA make each individual who they are. The soil on which you were brought into this world only accounts for location of birth. One’s culture, traditions, and lifestyle create a new soul; all these factors mold an individual into the society and environment surrounding them. “American” is not
a culture; it’s a combination of a multitude of heritages combined with rich family traditions from other nations. A mother and father combine their views and teach their children accordingly. Having an “American lifestyle” can only mean one lives in an adapted/changed manner in which society has forced evolution on former parental views to fit the new needs of the generation.

Lastly, what is “American food”? Though the answer seems simple, many will have the instant thought of the staple foods in America (always cooked and bought in abundance). Pizza, hamburgers, nachos, hot dogs, fried chicken, and apple pie, just to name a few. However, when traced back to their original origins, each item on this list was brought to the Americas by immigrants. Pizza by the Italians and Greeks, hamburgers by the Mongols in Russia, Nachos by the Mexicans, hot dogs by sausage makers in Frankfurt, Germany, fried chicken by the African slaves, and finally the most famous ‘soul food’ of desserts: apple pie by the Europeans. “The origin of most customs and foods in America can be traced to Europe. The same is true of American Apple Pie. Not to upset the founding fathers, but apple pie, is not really American at all. Fourteenth century English often enjoyed meat pies. Fruits such as apples were substituted in traditional meat pies and served as dessert. Apple pie was a favorite dessert during the reign of Elizabeth I.” (recipehut.com). These examples come to show even the dietary ways of “Americans” are adopted by those who are-- not-so American.

When the term “American” is used, context is the most important clue. With a wide variety of questionable and controversial meanings, it’s not unusual for most to think twice when hearing this word. Casually and formally, this term refers to an entire population; yet, its proper definitive definition is indescribable. Descent and ancestries from other countries have founded what is known today as America. Being “American” does give one all the rights of the constitution and the equality of a fair justice system; however, categorization through just a citizenship is not valid for description. Throughout the years this word has advanced, beginning with the Indians as the first “Americans”, and later the settlers as New England “Americans”. Historically and presently, this word should be used carefully since the individual definition each person has acquired may be different from your own. Though not offensive, the term “American” just goes to show the gray- area in the vocabulary which everyone seems to know so well.

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