As the European settlers came to the extensive lands of the Northern American continent, they faced the necessity to change their mindsets and identity. Something intangible transformed their values and lives and built strong connections with other settlers and their common country full of natural resources and opportunities. In his series of letters first printed in 1782, Hector Crevecoeur reflected on the cultural features that made an American. My impression is that his perspectives not only shed light upon paradigm shift and social changes in XVII century America but also revealed the specific feeling of being an American.
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First American immigrants were no longer the residents of countries with predictable laws, religion, and cultural patterns. Crevecoeur proudly stated that “we had no princes for whom we toil, starve and bleed” (50). So far, freedom from monarchy and advances in social politics were achieved by several other countries. For instance, Scandinavia is well-known for its high social inclusion, and lots of other countries threw off the shackles of religious intolerance and dogmatism.
The Americans are not the only bastion of freedom in the world, though the United States is the unique melting pot, the country of greatest cultural diversity. Crevecoeur claimed that the first American settlers were “a mixture of English, Scotch, Irish, French, Dutch, and Swiss. From this promiscuous breed, that race now called Americans have arisen” (51). Crevecoeur stressed the importance to change identification and share the common respect for America. It is fair to say that interconnections based on specific aims, not only on national and cultural background, make an American.
Citizens cannot identify themselves with their country when they do not feel attached to the land. Land, fair work, and family have been the pride of an American for centuries. According to Albertone, “the idea of an agrarian democracy that solidified American identity took shape between the late eighteenth century and the early nineteenth as an alternative to hierarchical societies of the old continent” (15).
Agriculture remains a large industry in the contemporary United States, yet major changes in American agriculture and farming lead to unprecedented social challenges. Pesticide contamination, remoteness from city infrastructure, and low employment levels in the sector represent a problem for Americans. Perin insisted that “in working out the problem of studying my own culture, it was necessary to become something of an outsider to it in order to get more deeply into it” (10). I would say that Americans nowadays are both critical outsiders to their culture and one nation setting common development goals.
For much of history, Americans have relied on common goals, diversity, nature, land, labor, and struggled for independence or rights. Although farming and cultural patchwork resulted in numerous challenges, they remained the pride of Americans. Much of these priorities are relevant in the XXI century as well as in the XVIII century when Crevecoeur wrote his inspiring Letters from an American Farmer.
Albertone, Manuela. National Identity and the Agrarian Republic: The Transatlantic Commerce of Ideas between America and France. Routledge, 2016.
Crevecoeur, Hector. Letters from an American Farmer. Read Books Ltd, 2013.
Perin, Constance. Everything in Its Place: Social Order and Land Use in America. Princeton University Press, 2014.