Saturday, July 6, 2013

I Am an American

Photo presented for the Fourth of July by our Department of the Interior

Above, you see our flag flying with the great mountain Denali in the background in Alaska.  We are a land with great scenic beauty and wonder.  We are also a land with urban blight and despoiled nature.  The scenic beauty is more common than the blight, but I have no desire to deny realities that need to be worked on.  That is why I worked for years with a homeless shelter.

I am speaking of no other nation when I speak of these things.  I wish each nation on this shrinking planet the absolute best version and vision of itself.  But ... and this is important ... beyond wishing those nations the absolute best, it is folly for me to think that I really know them.  3/8 of my blood flowed from the shores of Ireland and Scotland, but that doesn't mean I know anything about being Irish.  I read Grannymar's blog, but I don't walk her streets or wander through her countryside.  I don't walk into Irish pubs or stores and speak with the locals.  I may read many perceptive pieces on Ireland, I might ache with what I hear of her travails or glory in what I hear of her accomplishments, but I cannot tell you what it is to be Irish.

Here is the ironic part: I can't even fully tell you what it is to be American, I can only be one.  I have not lived in Maine or Wisconsin or Alabama.  But, I have lived on the Great Plains of Kansas and I have lived in beautiful California.  Yet, something about growing up here, something I can't fully understand, something that comes from living in America my whole life binds me to all these people quite deeply.  Einstein was right when he said the fish is the last one you want ask about water, for he lives in it and thus filters out perception of it.  Still, that fish knows water in ways that a landlubber like me never can.

Let me tell you a story to illustrate the fact that living as an American stamps you as American (as, no doubt living in France stamps you irrevocably as French).  I knew a young woman who worked for one of my customers.  She grew up in Mexico and, as she said, her accent and her knowledge of the culture are totally authentic.  She came to the United States in her late teens.  By the time she had reached her mid-twenties, to travel back to Mexico to see her family was to be greeted in places where they did not personally know her with the description "Americana!"  She was amazed.  Then she asked one of her friends how people knew right off that she had become American when her clothes and her accent did not give her away.  He told her that she now carried herself as an American.

It is something about the culture we each grow up in and I am not sure what it is.  All I know is that all of us are what we are and I really doubt that we ever figure out the whys or the whats.  And, I also know that others are going to be quite willing to give us the answer with great certainty.  And I also know that the answer they give won't be it, because they don't walk our streets, don't live in our homes.  And on and on it goes.


  1. I am Irish through and through. A thoroughbred! ;) Both sides of my family had the same last name but came from different parts of the country. Most of my relations were scattered across the island, with a few venturing into the wider world. They are all different, molded by the environment of the place where they lived.

    One family lives just down the road from you, Fos. They are American through and through, They never knew their Irish grandfather, a complicated story, yet when I met them ten years ago, they looked, laughed and carried themselves like young versions of my uncles! My cousin had even given them names of uncles she never knew she had!

  2. People here in China often ask me what it is like in America. How do I even begin to tell them? I tell them it is a totally different world. They cannot comprehend it until they have seen it for themselves, just as Americans cannot comprehend what China is like until they visit.

  3. To be American means you have the chance to attempt to be almost anything you wish to be - butcher, baker, candlestick maker, poet, pirate, rich man, poor man, beggar or thief. You can be a leader, a follower, entrepreneur, worker bee. Like you I know my roots but I am not defined by them. I am certainly happy and proud to be American as are people of other nationalities proud of their heritage. I am not, however, a believer in the infallibility of being American. Funnily enough - a great friend of mine and his late wife used to introduce me to friends from Europe as somewhat atypical because of my openness to things.

  4. @Grannymar

    The power of ancestry is indeed great. Just imagine what it is to be American where almost no two people are of similar ancestry. Where I live, they said that if you randomly meet two people in a row on the street, the odds are 85% against the three of you having the same ethnicity! Yet, what we draw from our ancestry, invisibly to us, speaks loud and clear.

  5. @Delirious

    Agreed! When our daughter went to school in New Zealand, everyone knew about America (they thought) and she had to let them know that almost all of their preconceptions were wrong. Such is it everywhere, I should imagine!

  6. @shackman

    I could quite easily have just said the same thing that you did. By definition of the founding fathers and the system they set up, we know that we are fallible and our system is designed to deal in terms of checks and balances with that fallibility. That we manage as well as we do is a testament to a stubborn, motivated people in a beautiful land. We always have room to improve.

  7. I was born in America where I am free speak my mind, free to live where I want, free to chose my own career, free to marry whom I chose, free to travel where I want, free to vote, free to…

    I am proud to be an American.

    blessings ~ maxi

  8. @Maxi

    I think the rest of the world sees us only through media and media finds us interesting enough to be able to sell time and issues. The problem with that, of course, is how the media portrays anyone! They want the salacious and the problematic, the tabloid fodder. For the person on the street, the reality is always vastly different, for it is too ordinary to make the news.

  9. You're right consort, didn't think of it that way. The world sees us through the eyes of a media lens. Thanks for the eye-opener; I learned something new today.
    blessings ~ maxi

  10. I really do not know what to say here except to say that in a very subtle way, if I change some places that you mention and write I could well be saying about me being an Indian verbatim.

    That is the beauty of this awesome world that has been given to us which we seem to be determined to destroy.

    Now let me share some thing absurd to lighten you up. Some of our worthies go to the USA on business trips and return after a few days and start using skedule for schedule and stretch the vowels to sound like Americans. You can imagine what I do with such jokers.

    I do not see the USA through the media's eyes. I see it through the eyes of Maxi, Chuck, you, Delirious and so on and the experience has been enriching. I see that Americans have the same hassles and joys that Indians have for being just humans. That is the marvel of the internet.

    I would not like to live anywhere else but where I am. This land is me and I am this land.

  11. @Maxi

    They have nothing else. Well, unless you communicate the way we are doing here.

  12. @Rummuser

    It would be as hilarious as if I started speaking with an Indian accent. As you Indians say, "Oy!" Well, the Jewish Indians ...


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