When I asked people what being an American means to them, it was hard to get a set answer. I was met with answers like “I don’t know, let me think about it,” and even after a few moments they were still stuck. This was expected because even when I ask myself that question it’s hard to give a definitive answer. What makes me an American? The fact that I was born here? The fact that the color of my skin allows me to be more accepted than the majority? The fact that when my great-great grandparents migrated to the United States from Europe they had the privilege of being able to make a name for themselves to prosper in the economy?
There are many Americans I know that don’t fit any of the criteria that many would consider an “average” american should fit. There are many Americans that weren’t born here, that because of their skin color or ethnicity are told to go back “home,” that suffer through poverty who are looked down upon, and some that go through all of the above. Does that make them any less American or any less deserving of equal rights and respect?
Shariden is an African American teenager and even at the young age that she is, she knows first hand what it’s like to not be accepted and fit in to the normal mold of being an american. “The racism that I’ve experienced as a black person has definitely had an effect on me as a person because just knowing that I’m not and will not, at least anytime in the near future, be seen as an equal in America has been really discouraging,” Shariden told me on her experience as a black woman in America.
Shariden’s experience has obviously been much different from mine, I’ve never been nor will I ever be judged or discriminated against because of my skin color. I can continue to believe that anything I set my heart to I can achieve and I can continue to believe in this idea of the american dream and making whatever I want of myself, but for Shariden that's harder to do. She doesn’t have that same hope for herself, she knows that it’s going to be a struggle for her as a black woman. Shariden is no less American than I am, but is seen as less. If the American dream means equal opportunity of success then why does that not hold true for Sharidan?
“I don’t know what it means to be American, and if I’m being honest I don’t think I’ll ever know,” Shariden says.
Emely has a bit of a different perspective on this as a child of mexican immigrants. “My mom and dad were both born in Mexico and took the risk to come here to give me and my brothers a better life, and if they hadn’t done that my life would probably be so much different. I don’t think I’d be the same person I am today without that,” Emely tells me. While she understands that America isn’t a perfect country and that there are a lot of flaws with some ignorant people that have made it hard for her and her family, she also understands that she has certain rights and freedoms that a lot of other countries wouldn’t allow her to have. Being the child of immigrants from Mexico it's understandable that she has a more positive view on living here and being an american, her parents risked and continue to risk everything to live here.
“I don’t know exactly what being american means to me. I guess I would say that it means having a certain freedom that not many others have the privilege of having, and I think I’m lucky to be American,” Emely says.
Much like Emely my family also immigrated to America, although the fact that my family immigrated from a European country rather than Mexico has had a major impact on the success that they’ve had at establishing themselves. With my great-great grandpa migrating from Germany and my great-great grandma migrating from England, they had it easier than most people.
My family had the opportunity to make a name for themselves and set a good foundation for future generations, my grandma and grandpa continuously worked hard to get to where they are today, and I think that’s why most people migrate to America, for a better life and a chance to succeed. That’s why Emely’s parents did it and that’s why so many others continue to risk everything they have to come here. It’s disheartening though, to see that these people are no longer accepted, and rather than bringing these immigrants in with open arms, instead we’re pushing them away claiming they don't belong here.
Shariden, Emely, and I have all had different experiences when it comes to being American, and because of this we all have a different feeling of what being American means to us. Shariden’s experience deals with discrimination and being seen as unequal to others. Emely’s experience deals with her family risking it all for her to have a better life here. My experience consists of being seen as what the average American should look like and living with little struggle because of this, but knowing that shouldn’t be how the world views people.
Being american can have a different meaning for many different people and it’s hard to give one set definition, and I think that’s what makes being American so special. We all go through different experiences throughout our lives that give us a different view on being american. This country is filled with so many different people and we’re so culturally diverse, it’s sad that there’s still such a major unacceptance for these people, because even though they may not be what many people may like to see as the average american or may want to be the average american, the truth us they are and there’s no changing that.