In their book, “In creating America: Reading and Writing Arguments”, Joyce Moser and Ann Watters contend that there is a contradiction to the American Identity concept. If at all we are to ever understand his concept, the authors argue that we need to think contradictorily (Moser & Watters 551).
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Freedom and unity may be the fundamental principles of America but from a historical perspective, the country has fallen victim to social and racial divide. As a result of these divisions, the country stands together but is nonetheless, alone.
In His article, “Does America Still Exist?” Richard Rodriguez talks of the need and willingness by Americans to assimilate into ‘a single unified whole’ (Rongriguez 189). However, this is not really easy as this research paper will reveal, because we are gathered together not as a people, but as individuals with distinct destinies, and separate pasts.
American has been referred to as a melting pot of diverse cultures. For a long time, American Indians were the sole occupants of this country. However, following the colonization of the continent by the British, Europeans started streaming into the country looking for a better life.
They would soon be followed by Asian immigrants. The Europeans also brought in Africans as slaves to provide labor at their farms and industries. Although all these cultures crashed in the beginning, over time however, they have evolved and mingled to form the American identity (Rodriguez 189).
The desire to chase “the American dream” has attracted immigrants from all corners of the world, bringing with them new changes and identities. Some of these changes have been adopted by the rest of the Americans, thereby changing America. However, these immigrants have had to bear the brunt of rejection and cultural shock in the land of opportunities. Faced with loneliness and hostility, they strive to find their own identify.
They still harbor the memories of what they left behind in their country (Rodriguez 190). Nonetheless, the story is different with their children, who have to try hard to achieve divided loyalty between the country of their parents and grandparents, and America. For example, children of Vietnamese or Italian descent are expected to start living as Americans.
As a result, various nationalities have to come together to form a common culture- the American culture. Viewed at from this perspective, America can be likened to a melting pot whereby individuals from diverse cultures such as Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Italian, ands people of African descent, among others, come together and shed their culture to embrace a common culture that identifies them all as Americans.
Nonetheless, Americans do not easily celebrate the assimilation process of their culture. Instead, they seek to pledge allegiance to diversity.
Americans are gathered together not as a people, but as individuals with distinct destinies, and separate pasts. Towards this end, the American society is akin to a Puritan congregation that stands together but is nonetheless, alone (Rodriguez 189). Traditionally, the best definition of Americans was that which they failed to include. Although we have witnessed a couple of frenzy outbreaks, for the most part, we have remained open and true to ourselves that we are indeed an immigrant country.
Various landmarks have found use in the definition of the American identity, ranging from Elks hall and soda fountain that characterizes the pious emblems of America’s rural community, to the shopping malls at the city where the curious laughter of people from diverse races and different ambitions can be heard.
Perhaps the city is the one place that truly represents America. However, even here, millions of individuals have to grapple with the question of who they are. Consequently, an immigrant child in the city has to resign to the fact that he will be asked “where you from?” time after time.
In his article, ‘Loneliness… an American Malady’, Carson McCuller ponders with the question of whether loneliness is our greatest malady as Americans (McCuller 260). The author also wonders if indeed this loneliness is a quest for our identity. It is important to note that the will by an individual to belong and claim his/her identity is stronger than the complex ricochets of our rejections and desires. The two motives are a source of obsession for human beings from infancy to death.
Nowhere is this more profound that among millions of immigrants in America. Every day, they are reminded of the need to define who they are. Although they have roots in other cultures (for example, Chinese, Italian or Japanese), nonetheless, to satisfy their will to belong, they need to start identifying themselves as Americans.
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Moral isolation is not tolerated by the American culture and for this reason, American are always reaching out to others for further experience and immediate contact. We are in a sense, an outgoing nation. We are not a xenophobic nation whose individuals can only destroy and reject the American identity as a result of a negative attitude borne of their inability to come to terms with who we are.
Consequently, xenophobic individuals are characterized by emotional intolerance, racial hate, and snobbism (Rodriguez 190). On the other hand, while seeking out things, Americans do so as individuals. The moral loneliness of Americans is scarcely present among Europeans, who enjoy rigid class loyalties and secure family ties.
For example, while European artists form aesthetic schools or groups, an American artist remains an eternal maverick not just in his own art, but from the point of view of society as well. Americans are inquisitive and adventurous, and are always seeking. Nonetheless, our identity as Americans rests in our own hearts, and this could be manifested by the way that we master loneliness to an extent that we can at least claim that we belong.
Perhaps it is this opposition to assimilation which just goes to show that the process is inevitable. This pattern has been observed by a number of generations in America. The question of who really is an American has proven futile to millions of American immigrants as far back as the 1950s in the Eastern cities of New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Baltimore who had to find their true identity amidst mixed races of Mexicans, Chinese, Japanese, and African Americans, among others.
A similar picture came into light in the 1960s when African Americans and other minority races were championing their rights (Rodriguez 192). In the 1970s, antiwar movements were characterized by romanticism. The same romanticism was also evident among members of the ‘minority group’ who at the time sought the status of Primary Victims. For those Americans unconfident of or uncertain about their common identity, one way through which they could assert their identity was to assume a minority standing.
Today, Americans of diverse racial backgrounds go to school, work and socialize together. One would then assume that at last, they have found the true American identity but this is far from the case because the lack of common identity persists.
As Americans, we are more likely to believe in the racial differences amongst us for example, than what we share in common. We need to appreciate the fact that the circumstances that have brought us together as a nation are by far greater than the differences that we share. When and if we recognize this, we shall have discovered the American identity.
McCuller, Carson. “Loneliness…. an American Malady”. New York Herald Tribune, December 19, 1949, 18-19.
Moser, Joyce, and Watters, Ann. In Creating America: Reading and Writing Arguments. Ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ.: Pearson, 2005. Print.
Rodriguez, Richard. Does America still exist? In Warner, Sterling and Hilliard, Judith.
Visions across the Americans: short essays for composition. Stamford, Mass: Cengage Learning, 2009. Print.