How is American Creed defined by its members?

Posted by Rachel Michigan

A narrative of how my immigrant mother overcame hardships to become American, relating to Gone with the Wind and the Great Gatsby, defining what American Creed is, defined by those whom belong to it.

Both my mother and father arrived to the United States from China in pursuit for more opportunities that could further their careers by giving them more resources that China couldn’t offer. Throughout this journey, my parents have overcome hardships in both assimilating in American culture as well as the process of having others accept their culture, and for them to assimilate into their lives. Throughout this journey, my parents have defined American values in their pursuit to better their lives outlining American values shared by other from different backgrounds, but pursuing the same goal.

From a young age, my parents were taught that America was the land of opportunity. Recalling their days in school learning about world history, they laugh at how they memorized the Great Lakes, and how Detroit was the home of the auto industry, and how all of that seemed distant in the sense that it would only ever exist within their textbooks, and never could imagine one day they would start a family there. They recall first arriving to the midwest, stepping off that plane and looked around at the flat hills of endless seas of grass, the blue sky dotted with fluffy white hills, the red barns that dotted the highway and the sparkling lakes and woods that emerged from the horizon.

With only two suitcases, my parents worked painstakingly hard so that they could find an identity in this new land. Although they had learned English since elementary school in China, attending university still posed a difficult challenge. My mother said that she didn’t know what the first assignment was, because she couldn’t understand the professor. However, over time, while her dictionary wore out, her English improved, soon she could interact and understand others. She recalls the time that she truly felt she succeeded was when she took one of her friends to McDonald’s, and ordered for both of them. At the moment, she didn’t think much of it, but it was only afterwards when her friend said she thought my mother was so sophisticated in that she could perform that simple exchange without hesitation.

Eventually, my mother graduated college with high honors, received praise from her professors and peers, and got a job at Michigan State University. A few years later, she would become an American citizen and vote for the first time. She would also actively participate in her daughter’s parent organizations and now currently earning her Master’s degree. To her, that place that could only ever exist in the colored pictures of her textbooks finally became her reality, and she assimilated into the American Creed, bringing her unique story and experience to the people she once thought so foreign.

Certainly my mother’s story was not as simple as she tells it. Although eventually she was accepted into American society, she encountered many obstacles blocking her route to belonging to that creed. Another literary example of an immigrant overcoming the hardships and prejudices of the natives and gaining respect and status to finally become American is outlined in the story of Gerald O’Hara in Gone with the Wind. Gerald was born a peasant Irishman working on landowner’s plots and always repressed and underrepresented. His goal was to own the land he worked on, and so he pursued that dream relentlessly in America until he became a successful plantation owner and assimilated to the Confederate Southern elite society. That’s just the simple summary of beginning and end. The middle consisted of his pursuits in convincing his brother to give him the money to start his business, taking the risk to win the gamble for land and slaves, as well as earning the hand of his wife, a prominent Southern belle that finalized his transition to becoming American. Both his and my mother’s story of struggle to eventual success showcase the hardships and struggles of becoming American, but ultimately those experiences shaped them into the people that bring new ideas representing American Creed.

However, not every story is as successful like Gerald O’Hara and my mother’s. Gerald’s acceptance into Southern society was only solidified after marrying his wife, Ellen Robillard. Ellen to Gerald much represents what Daisy could’ve been to Gatsby, had they married. Although Gatsby was not an immigrant to the United States, in a sense, he was very much an immigrant to that elite “one percent” social class. People like Tom who belong to that class continuously try to push Gatsby down, and had Gatsby wedded Daisy, perhaps he could’ve fully assimilated into the culture, but he did not, and his “immigration” story proves to have been failed.

In conclusion, assimilating into a culture as an immigrant poses many challenges, both in doubt from oneself as well as oppression of others. Although success stories are often told, there are many cases where despite efforts, immigration assimilation is unsuccessful, as shown by Gatsby and his pursuit of wealth. However, those that do succeed and join the groups that they immigrate to bring a unique perspective because of their resilience and experience, and often bring a new meaning to that group, in this case, defining American Creed.

Published on Jan 8, 2019
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Writing Our Future: American Creed is part of the National Writing Project’s family of youth publishing projects, all gathered under the Writing Our Future initiative.

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