In light of on-going world affairs I pay close attention to national news related to the U.S. and its national identity in the 21st century.
Over the past century the U.S. has become the well-known melting pot nation that still instills the four F’s
to all who come to live, work, or find refuge on its shores. As a united republic created under these freedoms anyone might assume that the country’s national identity remains open-ended and representative of values more than the population’s racial, ethnic religious, or other backgrounds. However, in recent years and more so with the current rhetoric broadcast daily on TV one might think that the U.S. has always upheld a national identity based on the majority populace views.
As a Black/ Haitian-American and minority I see my national identity as an American to be under-represented. This is largely due to being considered a minority group within the U.S. and being subjected to modern-day racial tensions from the country’s former days. Though I see my identity under-represented nowadays I see many more minorities and different racial/ethnic groups subjected to the rising wave of ‘anti-other’ sentiment in the U.S.
Many outsiders or non-Americans do not fully grasp the basis for ‘anti-other’ sentiments happening in the U.S. because the country itself is largely known for its diversity and multi-ethnic population. The U.S. was a nation founded on moral principles and freedoms rather than on traditions/cultures/ and even racial lines. Therefore ‘anti-other’ sentiments do contradict our founding father’s goals. However, throughout the course of the country’s history views on the U.S. national identity have become less transparent and more miscued. While some may agree with this statement others may differ.
In retrospect all countries and nations have experienced periods of indifference toward welcoming new groups of people into their lands. The indifference is largely based on fear of change of life ranging from culture, traditions, to identity. I learned this first hand when I lived in Korea for three years. As a majorly 97% homogeneous nation Korea along with many other countries was a country founded by traditions, culture, and racial lines. Maintaining a national identity of a ‘united people’ (우리 meaning us) Koreans uphold a high indifference toward residing foreigners.
As a foreigner living in Korea the feeling of otherness was an everyday feeling. Through the experience of ‘feeling other-ed’ I started to realize that unlike nations that uphold a united (ethnic) people identity the U.S. has upheld an open & diverse identity. However, the U.S. open and diverse identity, led me to wonder how American people view their country’s own national identity. As mentioned earlier I view my own national identity as under-represented in the country I was born and raised in. I am not alone in this feeling. Truthfully, many Americans, especially those born within minority groups or immigrant families, grow up in the U.S. as citizens of the country, but still may be viewed or treated indifferently.
Open yet indifferent is how I learned to view my nation’s identity. As a child I grew up in a diverse neighborhood, I attended an all-white private school, and I was able to reside in three demographically different states. Through my own personal experiences I learned that open, diverse, and most importantly welcoming communities were a privilege to live, work, or reside in. Through my own personal experiences I learned that the U.S. only retains an open and diverse perception. Though the nation was founded by morally shared principles the country’s dominant & empowered classes created the laws, instituted inner boundaries, and upheld indifferent views to all who settled after the nation earned its independence.
What makes an American American? Some might say its just possessing American citizenship. Others would say its being born & raised in the U.S. I, however, believe that what makes an American American is the individual’s personal/ family history of living, working, and residing within the U.S. What makes a French French? Or a Russian Russian? The same things. But, sometimes people miscue the lines. Sometimes race, ethnicity, or shared faith and religion bypass one’s personal/ family history in any location. This, I recently learned during and after my residency in Korea. As a temporary resident I was legally viewed as non-Korean. However, if I by chance had chosen at that time to make Korea my permanent home & receive citizenship in the future would I be Korean? Or would I still be viewed indifferently?
Having been raised to welcome others into my own home and to not hold open biases I remained perplexed to the feeling of being subtly biased against within my own home country, and openly biased against when traveling outside of my country. It is my hope that in the next century national identities do not define us because national identities should not make anyone feel less than themselves or feel more empowered over others. In addition, national identities should not be confined to one’s race/ethnicity as the world increasingly becomes more globalized and people continue to move across borders. Finally, it is also my hope that indifference between races, ethnic groups, religions, etc. seen around the world and even inside of the U.S.(*especially as of lately) be offset by shared moral principles.
Maybe one day the founding moral principles will live up to its value and the laws, boundaries, and national views of indifference in the U.S. will change so that those who feel as though they are under-represented are openly welcomed and included. Maybe one day all nations will become more inclusive and not isolated. Maybe one day all people across racial, ethnic, religious, and other lines will find hope that their national identity
will be one that they can feel fully represented by and most importantly representative of within the nation that they grow up in, choose to work in, or reside in.