A house divided: The meaning of “American”

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Ben Lipka

With the constant turmoil fueled by this strenuous election season, the fibers of the American public are always frayed and under tension. Bigotry and hate parades the media, and a question that defines much of the struggle between two divided halves of the nation revolves around the notion of what being an American entails.

There are countless ways to define what being a member of the forefront of the free world means. To some, it is simply a status of citizenship. For others, it is an unwavering patriotism and faith in the country.

Almost everyone has varying opinions on what it means to be an American. In Niles North alone, a plethora of opinions can be found.

“Being an American means to strive to promote a country that accepts multiple countries as one, and alongside that, promote freedom, equality, and love,” Clint Moon, senior, said.

However, Niles North is home to other opinions as well. “Being an American, to me, means being part of the greatest country on Earth. I also do not think the government should control who is an American, but to be an American, you must pay taxes,” Jared Stine, senior, said.

Even those who believe the process of becoming an American should be more selective have strong feelings on the meaning of being American. “An American is anyone who believes that life’s goal is to pursue happiness. That being said, government places many limitations on people coming to America and attaining citizenship. This is for good reason, because outsiders understand that America is a hopeful microcosm of what life should be. As long as America can ensure freedom to all its citizens, then government shouldn’t control who is an American,” Eric Herwitz, a Niles North alumni, said.

I believe the question of what it means to be an American is quintessential to the time we are living in, especially as a large majority of the country clamors to the concept of building walls to keep people out. The obvious conclusion from the need for a wall is that those on the other side of the wall are simply not American.

And citizenship or nationalization are definitely characteristics of what it means to be an American. I may harbor dreams of a nation that is not riddled with borders, but the reality is that those who do not or have never lived in America are incorrect to call themselves Americans.

However, there is a different concept of what it means to be an American, and that is an individual that pursues the American ideals of Democracy. Still, there is a clear difference between blind patriotism, unrelentingly supporting America no matter the decisions the government makes, and questioning the decisions that our country acts upon.

Millions of Americans interpret the Second Amendment as the right for Americans to own guns. Yet, this deeply contested “right to bear arms,” to me, refers to the civic duty of Americans to rise to the occasion and actively protest their country when a decision is made that goes against the principles of Democracy. Nonetheless, the principles of Democracy are equally as loose as what it means to be an American.

In a time where hatred and division is infesting America, it is important to be accepting of everyone regardless of their background. What makes America so great is its melting pot of an origin story, and a nation started by disenfranchised immigrants, a vast number of which being slaves at the time, should continue to pursue representation and fairness for all in need.

Featured image by Alpha Coders