What does it mean to be ____? | #3

As the midpoint of my internship passes, I am beginning to realize the changes that are occurring within myself regarding my views of the world and of the personal identities I hold. One of the identities that has surprisingly been called into question is my American identity. I frequently reflect on the differences and similarities between Argentina and my life in the United States which has caused me to reflect on what I believe it means to truly be American.

I remember watching the famous School House Rock movies throughout my childhood and one song that always stood out to me was the one about the melting pot of the United States. It was mostly about the era of American history when immigrants from all over began to arrive rapidly to the United States and how they all went into the giant melting pot once they became official Americans.

This was crucial in the development of my view of America and what it means to be American. And as I began to realize my personal identities, I developed the idea that I am an American before I am anything else. I have answers to the questions about my ethnicity and familial history, but if you ask me how I see myself, I see myself as an American and everyone else who shares my citizenship is equal with me in this way.

The way I see it is that every American citizen should first stand by their country and the values it stands for before they separate themselves in any other way. This then leads to the debate of what values the country stands for, but I believe we all can at least agree that the United States stands for the individual freedom to have other identities beyond our citizenship and the right to defend those identities which is a lot more than what I am beginning to realize others can say about their country.

One night I was waiting at the bus stop with my three of my friends – one is also an American, another a Mexican, and the last a Nicaraguan. We were discussing how we identify ourselves with our countries and my friend from Mexico asked me what I think it means to be American. I told him I see the definition of an American as a very loose term. To me, many diverse people can all claim to be American and every single one of them has the right to that identity.

In another instance, the volunteers in a different section of my NGO were planning activities for the students to do during their final week before winter vacation began. They were considering planning cultural activities representative of each country. When we asked one volunteer from Hong Kong what was an aspect of her culture that she could share with the children she replied with “I don’t really know. I had more influence from the Western hemisphere growing up than from Hong Kong.”

Both of these instances have shown me that not only are the identities one holds with their home country vary across the world but this idea that I have held for the majority of my life is something that others have never actually considered. Something that has come so naturally for me is a completely new concept to some; I am still trying to decide if I am lucky for being able to freely identify with my country in this way or if it something that is limiting my view of the various was people classify themselves.

These events and the others like them that I have experienced have been uncomfortable at times, but I think that by being uncomfortable I am growing as a person. There are many workshops I have sat through that focus on the idea of growing by stepping out of your comfort zone, and I think if I can become comfortable with being uncomfortable amazing things will happen.

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