Does Your Type of American Even Matter?

Written by Jolene Avila 

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The United States of America is a nation of immigrants from all over the world. While this nation started from European settlers, these are equivalent to today’s immigrants that vary from Muslim to Mexican to African. Many of these immigrants are forced to displace themselves from their home countries and must learn to adapt to new surroundings. Some immigrants retain a sense of pride and loyalty to their heritage and we tend to call them hyphenated citizens. Hyphenated Americans, to be specific, are very diverse. For example there are Mexican-Americans, Chinese-Americans, and the list goes on and on.

While although many immigrants find success from assimilating to the American culture, this however does not mean you must disregard your old values for “superior” American ones. Almost a fifth of the U.S. population identifies as non-white and this number is growing. In the next 20 years or so, the United States is set to become one of the first post-industrial countries where racial and ethnic minorities will be the majority of the population. A predominantly white America will be a thing of the past. This shows that immigrants do not have to put their past aside to be truly “American.” While some people may have the idea that, “If I wanted to be Japanese, I would have stayed in Japan” or wherever they may be from, this is not the way to think. At the end of the day, you cannot pick and choose your heritage or where your family came from. You are not either American or Japanese. It is possible to be both. If you are the outcome of immigrant parents but born in the U.S., you are American. If people ask you where you’re from, you should tell them “here.” You should never be categorized by either “American” or “Immigrant” because you can be both and proudly share that. In “What Does It Mean to be an American?” by Michael Walzer he argues for ethnic-Americans in the case that they can live a whichever life as they choose, on either side of the hyphen. His biggest point being that pushing for a radical program of Americanization would really be un-American.

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Overall, a hyphenated identity does not make you an outsider of any sort, but proves that you are true to yourself and your heritage. It is not un-American nor an identity crisis. Anyone can be an American, an Englishman, or an Aussie, but in the end, these nationalities are all social constructs. No one should be forced to throw away their identities because others have disavowed their own. If you are an immigrant but decide to be identified as only American, that is okay too. It is just important to acknowledge and support those who do wish to be hyphenated Americans.

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13 Responses to Does Your Type of American Even Matter?

  1. Anonymous says:

    Jolene,

    I think you had a great perspective in your post. The idea that someone who identifies as a hyphenated-American is less than another who identifies as solely American is crazy. America was built on the fundamentals of individualism and you said it best when you said that an immigrant can identify as only American if they want to. At the end of the day America is what we make it to be, if we want to embrace a previous cultural heritage that maybe your great grandparents had, go ahead. If you want to completely identify with the US as your own history, go ahead. That is the beauty of America, we can be who we want to be.

    • Jolene says:

      This comment is beautifully written! The fact that we can choose who or what we want to be identified as is truly what makes American so beautiful. I totally agree with your belief that it is up to each individual to choose if they want to embrace their certain cultures and if not, its okay. There is no one to tell you whether or not it’s okay to be Chinese AND American or just Japanese. This is one of the greatest things about America and everyone should learn to accept it.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I appreciated your post on the value of acknowledging heritage withing immigrant communities. Many people in these groups feel the need to assimilate as a means towards survival. The great thing about this country is that it has many people who have established diverse foundations. Looking at Jazz in the south which has its roots in African – Americans, shows how a sound from a collection of people has now become American itself. Even looking at throughout the American Southwest, Latino cultural standards have been intertwined. This is the future of America where it is a mix of many things and it shared amongst a diverse group of people.

    • Jolene says:

      I’m so glad you appreciate this post! While assimilating is something that is okay to do when coming to America, it is also important, to me at least, to bring some culture with you to the states. I like how you pointed out how America has such vast influences from wherever that might be in the world, and that in my opinion is what makes us American. Things such as ethnic enclaves in big cities like Chinatown, Little Italy and etc. really show how integrated and diverse America truly is and we should treasure this.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Hi Jolene, I agree with your post with the feeling that you should be who you are. I agree that it is important to acknowledge and support those who celebrate their hyphen. However, I feel that people that identify simply as American tend to be the ones that don’t want to accept hyphenated Americans. Especially when hyphenated Americans pretty much have no choice to accept the other ones. I always feel that the main issue with topics like immigration and language come down to a small group of individuals that refuse to accept that there are hyphenated Americans (especially ones from non-European countries).

    • Jolene says:

      That’s a great observation! It is crazy to think that there are people who do not accept hyphenated Americans when they are hyphenated Americans themselves. America is a country of immigrants as far back as we can remember yet these are the same people who are non accepting of present day immigrants. At the end of the day, no one can tell you you’re not a certain race or ethnicity, everyone deserves the right to embrace who they are.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I loved your post, I mean really this is the one issue in America that gets me fired up more than any other in American politics. I hate irrational stereotyping, and to me the attacking of ones heritage is just uncalled for. If we all followed this line of thought that the only identity you should have is American, then we no different the the Nazi’s of WW2. In a nation that thinks its nationality is the only one that matters and all others are lesser and should not exist in its nation, to me that is the most disgraceful society. A hyphen to me is indeed a representation of identifying with ones true self, and a reminder we all came at some port or another to this nation through an immigrant. That is a fact for all Americans, (expect those who are Native American’s) all other groups though share this heritage, whether they like it or not. It is just ignorant to be so blinded by nationalism of this kind, and the hyphen fight this behavior I believe. Because how can we as a people help the world if we can’t even help ourselves.

    • Jolene says:

      I am very glad you enjoyed my post and feel so passionate about it! This was not an issue I even knew was relevant until we discussed it in class and through Ansuldua’s reading. Looking more deeply into it, I now see the struggle people go through to protect their right to proclaim their own nationalities along with being American. This although is something that should not even be an issue since this is America, and we do have the right to be who and what we want to be. Your comparison to the Nazi’s of WW2 is so interesting and eye opening to me. I never looked at it that way but can see the similarities as putting the title of American on such a high horse and forbidding the hyphenation of it should not be allowed in any way, shape or form. In the end, as you said, no nationality is lesser so maybe if we compared it to the past and WW2 more openly, people can see just how absurd their being about this issue.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I agree that no one should be forced to throw away their identity just because they are here in the US. The idea of hyphenated citizenship I think is good because it allows for one to choose how they would like to view themselves. No one can say you’re American and not x and no one can say you’re x and not American. Because we live in such a diverse place it is important to not make a big deal out of this and force any thing upon anyone. Just like in our class if someone wants to embrace their families history there is no problem with it. Same goes for someone who just identifies themselves as an American. Not pushing anything specific is probably the best and least controversial way to handle this.

    • Jolene says:

      Yes! I totally agree with your comment. This issue should not even be something to be arguing about or even be controversial in the slightest. You really hit the nail on the hand when you said not pushing anything specific is the best way to handle this issue. Why should we push someone to be strictly American or not? You should be able to identify with whatever citizenship or ethnicity you believe you feel is best for YOU.

  6. Anonymous says:

    So much of this country is built off of the contributions of different immigrant communities. Whether it be technological, musical, political or civil contributions I think we have to realize that those hyphenated parts of peoples identities are part of being American. We should be proud of our own as well as other Americans’.

  7. Anonymous says:

    The social construction of the surrounding world is a fundamental part of being a human being. Separation into ethic, racial, cultural or other type of categories simplifies irrecoverably interaction with others. however, the variety can be misunderstood or misinterpreted as a result of the imperialistic, ethnocentric or other exaggerated considerations. In my opinion, it is the individual decision if identifying themselves in the society, disregarding the background. People should focus on the skills, quality of interactions, transparency, and openness of communication other than notion that separate them. Search for unification points will result in the establishment of new forms that will reveal benefits to everyone involved. immigration is a legal process that should not define the professionalism of an individual or their ethical standards.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Jolene,

    I enjoyed reading this post and thought that it was very relevant in today’s society, with so much backlash against immigrants form places like the Middle East and Mexico. I feel that you had a very specific point that you focused on throughout the post which really helped to drive the point home. The main idea that one can be both American and stay true to one’s past is an important one and I am glad you were able to argue it and put it in such plain terms. The only thing that I felt was lacking from this post was any mention of texts that were read in class. Although I can see clear relationships to this post and Ansuldua’s reading, the actual clear similarities were never discussed. Overall a compelling post.

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