What is the American Identity

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Reading and Writing Across the Corriculum

Final Essay

Christine Cusick and Jenny Bangsund


                               What is the American Identity

          The “American Identity” is unquestionably one of the most difficult terms to

define because it means something different to each person. However, there are a few

parts of the identity that most would agree with. In order to grasp an understanding of the

“American Identity”, one should remember two things: American passions, products, and

ideas come from a combination of many different races, ethnicities, classes, sexualities,

and places; and the problems caused by such great diversity are constantly emerging and

being resolving for the better of the country. If everyone would read and discuss

information concerning these topics, they may develop a priceless understanding of what

it means to be American.

          America may be considered a geographical place, but just because a person is in

America or an object is made in America does not make them American. For example,

the many Japanese cars produced in America are not considered to be American cars.

Inversely, nor is something that is not made in America necessarily un-American. The

fast-food cheeseburger is produced all over the world and yet is still considered an

American food. Even though the United States stretches from the arctic regions of

Alaska, through the redwood forests of California and the Deserts of Arizona, and all the

way into the Jungles of Hawaii, there is not a single American climate or region that does

not also exist in another country. Therefore, when “place” is in the same sentence with

“American”, its meaning extends far beyond that of a simple geographic location. For
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instance, when the word “frontier” is mentioned, a map of the Western United States is

not usually the first idea that comes to most people’s minds. Instead, it is oftentimes an

image that has been ingrained in one’s head because they have empathized with another

person. Reading and conversing are the primary methods of conveying such grand ideas

and without them, we would not see a vision of a bold and optimistic family moving

across a prairie setting in a covered wagon or a hunter in a raccoon skin cap

enthusiastically exploring westward. These images come from communication with

others and relating to their experiences and have very little to do with geography.

       To some people, “American” could be considered another name for the “none of

the above” category. It seems reasonable to say that someone at some point in time

probably thought to them self, “What should we call this new tradition? It’s not entirely

French. In fact, it’s almost African with a sprinkle of Jewish origin. Heck, we’ll just say

it’s “American” because the idea was brought here in pieces from all over the world and

then assembled here in The United States of America.” In addition to traditions, all new

forms of music, art, and dance were probably considered using the same logic. People

from all over the world are exchanging ideas and moving this nation toward a new and

integrative society.

       This great nation consists of millions of people from all over the world and from

every background imaginable. However, when some of the peoples of America look

back at their ancestry, not everyone sees the greatness. Instances of persecution have

always seemed to permeate the history of America. The Native Americans were brutally

forced onto pathetically small reservations where they were left in chaos and then

forgotten. African Americans were dragged to this continent by force, but only to
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become slaves for centuries to come. At the end of the 19th century, many non-English

speaking European immigrants had no choice but to live in ghettos because they were so

harshly discriminated against. Japanese immigrants were placed into concentration

camps during World War II for national security. Only a few decades later, those who

supported the Communist party were labeled and then ostracized by the entire nation

throughout The Cold War. Today’s struggle involves homosexuality. Homosexuals are

discriminated against and are refused the right to marriage. It seems “American” to have

a melting pot population with many different national ethnic, racial, and sexual problems.

       In contrast, one who is attempting to define the “American identity” should also

consider the level of tolerance between the US citizens towards those of different ethnic

and racial backgrounds. College campuses can oftentimes be the epitome of diversity

and tolerance in this respect. Although there are some students who are prejudice, inter-

racial and ethnic friendships are ordinary. Sometimes it can even be exciting to realize

just how well people from different places all over the world are beginning to get along

as they share stories from back home to one another. It appears as though everyone is

being treated with more and more equality as time progresses and as racial and ethnic

problems emerge and resolve. This is part of what it means to be American, for national

ethnic and racial problems to lead towards an even stronger union between the different

peoples of America.

       The average man in the US used to be like those in nearly all other nations. They

were powerful, domineering, family and self-supporting, and educated people. Women,

on the other hand, were the exact opposite. They lacked all the privileges that men had

and were silently considered unworthy of representation or receiving an education. It
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should be unsurprising that nearly all of the people who first came to live in the new land

yearned for change, freedom, liberty, happiness, and security. Nearly all of these bold

individuals were willing to risk the ultimate sacrifice in order to escape their homeland,

and women were definitely not exempt from these passions. They would not allow the

feet of men to stifle their freedom, their liberty, their happiness, and their security; they

would show that through their bravery and courage that mere tradition cannot deprive

half of the US population of hope; they would prove beyond a shadow of a doubt and for

all eternity that they are quite capable of earning their equality to men. The feminist

movement (and the African American rights movement) demonstrated to the world that

any determined group could not be denied their equality for long when they are in the US

and so an American identity might include a passion for achieving equality.

       Most of the civilizations before the signing of the Declaration of Independence

had very distinctive classes. A few very privileged people were born into a wealthy

upper class that had a great deal of control over the very poor lower class. Association

between the classes was avoided because the lower class was seen as unfit for it. In

America, the poor cannot be deprived of success. Someone born a very poor can achieve

great wealth because there is no one with the power to hold him or her back. As a result,

the two once very distinct classes began to smear together to the point where most of the

population was simply considered a middleclass. Perhaps the blending of the two classes

into the middle class first occurred in American and so it is now being part of the middle

class is now part of the modern American identity.

       Virtually everyone has a different definition of what it means to be American, but

after they have empathized with other’s life-stories by reading or talking, they generally
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agree that when it describes a place, it should be a setting specific to America. When it

describes the people in general, it should include words such as boldness, courage, and

passion. When it discusses groups, it should discuss different ethnicities, races, classes,

and sexualities that have struggled to be treated equally in the US.

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