Wednesday, December 06, 2017

What It Is To Be An American


 


 

After a considerable absence one returns and finds many fundamental and drastic alterations not so much in the physical landscape, but more on the people, their ideals and values spanning many spectra.  Not to suggest that no perceptible changes were being made when I first left.  But more because they are now so unavoidably glaring.

One finds a country almost at war with itself, almost equally divided politically, socially, and more.

Maybe only an outsider who used to be part of it could be able to notice and discern with some clarity and certitude.

Thus the troubled question above is posed.

The above question becomes relevant as necessitated by the hazy picture shrouded in a bit of enigma and mystery when one attempts to conceptualize what an American is.  At times the image coming out is flattering, but at other times deprecating.   Sometimes colored as white, at times as black, and still at other times as an admixture of two ethnicities or more.

This bring us to a rather idle treatise on the subject, inspired by some hope of elucidation.

Simply being or living in American soil does not make one American. The soil does little or practically nothing to make one American.  Thus, a tourist or a new migrant in America cannot hope to fully understand what it is to be American, much less hope to become one in thought and action in a hurry.  Not only because of the short duration of stay but for more involved reasons.

Neither does the color of one’s skin or one’s ethnicity determine whether one is an American.  After all, the entire country itself is composed of very diverse immigrants from practically all corners of the globe.

Being American does not lend to being easily defined or reduced to words.  It is a tangled composite of many different intangible facets accumulated over the many years of its existence.  And it has been likened as the “grand social experiment” by those who founded it.

All these intangibles reside collectively in the people and the revered institutions that make this country whole and recognizable, anchored in spirit and thought
bequeathed by previous generations of families dating back to its very founding.  But the people themselves do not necessarily know what they have that make them American and how others may be informed and clothed to become part and parcel of the body politic.

And because of this seeming paradox or mystery, it is no easy task to be American, maybe not even for those who have lived all their lives in the country.  Because this requires a conscious effort at learning the qualities needed to become one, especially because of the confluence and conflation of many varied cultures and ethnicities in the country.  And all this admittedly coupled with the concomitant grating friction resulting from such coming together.  Likened to tectonic upheavals we are most familiar with. Unique combination and historic union not likely found or present in all other countries in the world.

It rather demands total immersion in this rather complicated and intermingled society we call the US of A.  The same process that countless other previous immigrants have done in the past and continue doing in the present.  And which produced a country like no other in history, most likely because of the kind of body politic created by such.

The immersion medium itself which has been in use innumerable times has undergone dilution and alterations that what comes out may not be totally similar to the previous earlier ones. 

One has to then be very discerning and discriminating to determine which ones are still in congruence with that in the past.

Put differently, it can be likened to clear water that has been used in this immersion process over the years becoming muddled and maybe not as recognizable as it was before.  Thus, it is incumbent to have it regularly tested and maybe cleaned so as to approximate how and what it was when it all started.

As once an immigrant to the country, I too have witnessed the many resultant changes in what it is to be American since the beginning of our stay, and some changes one may judge as not corresponding to the ideals once established by the founding fathers.  This observation materializing in the short span of a few decades.

But at the same time, one also witnesses that though Americans come from diverse backgrounds and ethnicities and cultures, they collectively speak like one, act like one, and more importantly, exhibit values and behavior like one people, cohesive and indivisible. 

At least as gleaned from what its majority believes in.

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