What Does it Mean to be American?
Mark Suster

Thanks for writing this and some of the recent posts that touch on the immigrant experience.

When we emigrated in 1979, it was at the height of the Cold War, and even though my parents were Refuseniks who despised Communism and who loved American ideals long before they ever saw America, there was never a shortage of kids calling me a ‘Commie’ or ‘boater’ or some proud monoglot trying to correct my father’s grammar. The majority of Americans were of course, extremely tolerant, polite, helpful, and embracing of us. But then again, we looked just like them, so until we spoke or someone noticed our odd colored socks with sandals, no one had any reason to distrust us.

I never really felt 100% American, but that was my fault for letting others color or dictate what being America meant. When I traveled the country and saw all of the different types of people, I realized, no one person, group, ethnicity, race, political party, etc., gets to tell others whom or what can and can’t be American. We do that as a nation of immigrants, children of immigrants, grandchildren of immigrants, and so forth, based on laws and shared mores, which are based on common decency, something promoted by immigrants fleeing the cold, stoic, oppressive, impersonal environments that robbed them of it.

I understand it’s just part of the human condition. Tribalism that is. But nothing bothers me more than seeing immigrants turn into nativists as soon as they feel they’ve been accepted into the majority, so to speak. Seeing people in my own Russian Jewish community, or similarly, in my friends’ Indian and Filipino communities, conveniently forget the distrust we/they encountered as immigrants. Back when we arrived on these shores, after the last group of unwanted souls who looked differently from us, but whom were equally scorned at some time in some way, in this country’s exceptional, but tainted history. In life, you can choose to be led by fear or open yourself up to change, and positive change at that. It’s called growth.

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