In light of recent controversies, a single question comes to mind: What does it mean to be an American? Is being an American simply a matter of citizenship, or is it something deeper? Am I an American? Are you? The true definition is hard to pin down. It changes based on the person or the situation, and it changes all the time. The word American has become almost like Play-Doh: one can mold it to however they wish to use it.
Recently, the idea of being American has been further fractured. Current disputes over matters including the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) and over athletes kneeling during the national anthem have deepened divides between Americans. These issues have created even more questions over the nature of Americanism: are DACA benefactors American? Is it truly patriotic to kneel during the anthem, or even to stand?
To me, an American is one who understands the need for diversity and vouches for it. Diversity is immensely important, and we can see its importance even in nature. Without it, an ecosystem is weak and prone to falling apart, and the same goes for American society, which has grown and thrived thanks to the ideas, labor, and culture brought by others. The times are changing, and we need diversity. We get our diversity from immigrants, refugees, and people from all over the world who look to us as a beacon of hope.
Donald Trump has stated his intent to repeal DACA, an immigration policy that allowed a period of deferred action from deportation for children who had entered the US illegally as children. Donald Trump has no regard for its beneficiaries, and even went so far as to call the program “illegal amnesty.” Are these people who have come to America and grown alongside us not Americans? Nine hundred DACA beneficiaries are currently serving in a program that allows them to serve their country. Why would they fight for Americans? It’s really a simple matter: they are Americans themselves. Despite an attempt to drive them out and cast them out, America is the home of DACA recipients, and it is their home as much it is yours.
Our president has also called refugees a Trojan Horse, labeling them a threat. Refugees from places like Syria, Burma, and Iraq have lost everything to the war, terror, and even genocide. As a result, they turn to America, a land of abundance, to find safety. Yet they are condemned for occupying our nation. Our country is more fractured than ever, over even the smallest issues. If we don’t shape up and live to our ideals, we are breaking a deal—a deal our forefathers made to the world, that America would be a place of freedom and liberty.
Another source of controversy has been that football players have recently begun to kneel or link arms during the national anthem to protest current racial tensions. People are condemning these actions as unpatriotic and disrespectful toward our country. However, these players are standing up for change. They see people dying and struggling with the racial divide increasing, and they want to help by calling attention to causes that they feel drawn to. They see the country they once loved spiral downwards, and they are saying that this is not America. They see an America full of racism and hate, and they try to appeal to the common sense in the most prominent way that they can. They see one another being bashed in the media, yet still join in. Why? Because they are American, and they wish to defend their country and its ideals.
An American has integrity, tenacity, ownership, and compassion. An American upholds the ideals of the society. By dividing our nation, by labelling some residents ‘Un-American’, we fail to uphold our patriotic duties to create as safe and welcoming a nation as possible. When we suppress expression and condemn those who try to publicly raise awareness to social issues in our nation, we are preventing a much needed dialogue in our nation and infringing upon the rights of other Americans to free speech and expression.