The New American Essay, Research Paper
The New American
The definition of what it means to be an American has changed dramatically throughout the history of our country. The founding fathers brought forth the idea of a new nation; that made sovereign the supremacy of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. America has changed drastically over the last two hundred years, and the definition of what it means to be an American has changed with it as well. In class for the last several weeks, the question was raised of what it means to be an American at the end of the twentieth century. The America of the twentieth century is not as far off from what the founding fathers intended; as some people might be led to believe.
We have looked at several different works and articles that have given their perspective on what it means to be an American. Although American citizens are shown in Hollywood movies such as Kids, the film does not depict what the true meaning of being an American is. Our country was founded on the principals of there being no borders between us as a nation. Whether it be a difference of race or heritage, we as a people are all Americans. Being an American means setting aside your biases or prejudices, and living side-by-side with other religions, races, and cultures in a society with the absence of a single ethnic origin.
Two works that mainly caught my attention were Letters from an American Farmer, written by Hector St. Jean Cr¾vecoeur, and The Disuniting of America, written by Arthur M. Schlesinger. Cr¾vecoeur focuses greatly on the American as a person with the drive and ambition to distinguish themselves from the others that are around them. Cr¾vecoeur’s views show a great sense of individuality among Americans. Schlesinger’s excerpt attempts to show that our country has failed to create the society that our nations founders originally wanted. A new society in which being an American does not mean you are white and your ancestors were from the original thirteen colonies; but a society that is multi-ethnic and has no real ethnic-origin.
The American as defined by Cr¾vecoeur, is a new man who acts upon new principals; and must therefor entertain new ideas and form new opinions. The American man is a strong unique individual who strives for individuality in a society of many people. Cr¾vecoeur says:
Men are like plants; the goodness and flavour of the fruit proceeds from the peculiar soil and exposition in which they grow. We are nothing but what we derive from the air we breathe, the climate we inhabit, the government we obey, the system of religion we profess, and the nature of our employment.
This shows how his views of what is means to be an American means that everyone must strive to obtain some sort of individuality. Americans will use certain bases of the society that they live in to form certain values; but after that they must create their own to gain the sense of individuality that they need.
Americans according to Cr¾vecoeur have a drive to learn and a thirst to acquire knowledge that other nations do not have. Cr¾vecoeur shows this by stating, “This renders them more bold and enterprising; this leads them to neglect the confined occupation of the land. They see and converse with a variety of people; their intercourse with mankind becomes extensive.” Americans are not satisfied with what they have within their own boundaries to explore. They must use the water that surrounds them to explore and gain further knowledge outside their borders. People such as Europeans are satisfied with what early knowledge they acquire and the early bargains they make.
Through Cr¾vecoeur’s Letters from an American Farmer, he shows that his views of Americans are a class of individuals seeking knowledge and individuality. Although Cr¾vecoeur’s ideas were based on America in the seventeen hundreds, everything he states about American individuality stands true today and is reinforced in Schlesinger’s excerpt.
Schlesinger promotes the idea of the great American “melting pot.” One of Schlesinger’s first statements is that Americans have puled off an almost unprecedented trick. The trick is that the United States has successfully created a federal, multi-ethnic state that works; and the state we have created is both successful and rich. Schlesinger writes throughout his article that the society we have created is deteriorating and is a time bomb waiting to explode. He believes the “melting pot” will divide all; and that the idea is long dead. Schlesinger states the people of the United States are going to explode and we are witnessing only the very beginning. Schlesinger’s views are skewed and come from a frightened view of what America will become with a fully integrated society. What we have pulled off in not a trick as Schlesinger puts it. What we have created in the United States is a society with the absence of a single ethnic origin. Without the restrictions of a single culture with a bunch of zealots attempting to preserve it, the United States has been able to offer ethnically diverse peoples compelling reasons to see themselves as part of the same nation. Our country was created with the assistance of many different ethnic groups and a variety of cultures.
People who want to retain their ethnicity, heritage, and culture are not forced to give it up if they choose to live in America. This is one of the many things that allows people to live in relative harmony in America. Schlesinger uses the journals of Cr¾vecoeur, he says, “Here individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men.” This new race of men lives under the idea of E pluribus unum, which means In God We Trust. The idea of this new race of man living under the wing of God would thrive forward creating a new identity for themselves, while melting away ethnic differences that may separate them. That is part of Schlesinger’s vision of what an American is and coincides with what Cr¾vecoeur says about American individuality.
So what does it mean to be an American? Schlesinger’s and Cr¾vecoeur’s views of what it means to be an American are essentially the same. It means you must be willing to set aside any prejudices you may have. It means learning to live with other people that have a heritage of their own; and they may posses a great sense of individuality that may not be yours. Looking at examples from movies like Kids, almost every teenager in the group was diverse in some way. Whether they were culturally different, ethnically different, or carried different beliefs, they set aside all their differences because they were all friends. The new race of man that is created by the joining of nations in a single society void of cultural biases; and allows the freedom of thought to drive the society to a higher level of conscienceness. Being an American means all prejudices are melted away by the variety of people living together in a new race of man called Americans.