I was born in America. Most people would say that that makes me an American. But a Brit pointed something out to me once: British people are British because they were born in Britain, Americans are only Americans if they act like it.
How is this, you ask? In Britain it would be strange to say that someone was acting "un-British" (unless of course they were standing awestruck in front of Buckingham Palace in Hawaiian shorts with a big camera). However, we hear of "un-American" conduct all the time. To be an American is to be patriotic, to value freedom, democracy, freedom, independence, humanity, freedom, justice, mercy, capitalism, and freedom. We are a strange breed: no distinct color or language, a very short history, no background in feudalism or even monarchy. You have to earn the right to be an American, otherwise you're just a squatter.
Personally, I strongly identify with Britain and Britons. I have a feeling that something went drastically wrong before I was born--I was supposed to be placed in a cool, rainy, dreary castle in Dartmoor with a quirky couple with bad teeth, flowery aprons, teapots, and a little garden. Instead I was rerouted to the humid, rocky land of Arkansas. But there are things in me that I can see are uniquely American, things that I've gleaned from my heritage and that wouldn't be there if I wasn't here:
- My sense of ambition. Sure, every country is filled with ambitious people, but America is "the land of opportunity", the place where anybody can get ahead, be a millionaire, aspire to the presidency, etc. I want to live a life with wings, to make something of myself, to be great. That is to be an American.
- My need for justice. I'm not happy just to sit back and watch the politicians do their thing. Americans are born with the strange notion that not only do they need to change things, but they have the power to change things. I see injustice and a fire is lit inside me. That is to be an American.
- My need to express. I'm not content to sit in a corner and think quietly. I need to make my thoughts and opinions known--sometimes to the point of being annoying. I feel that I am important, and I deserve to be heard. That is to be an American.
- My respect for others of different backgrounds and beliefs. The United States is a melting pot, and we are all, in one way or another, immigrants. My grandmother was Dutch, another ancestor came from Scotland, Germany, Ireland, etc. We are all Americans. I can see that as long as we all respect each other's rights we are all equal. That is to be an American.
What do you think about when the fireworks burst into the sky? What do you feel when you hear the national anthem? Are you proud? Are you sorry? Are you reconciled?