Shifting Definitions of “American”

When the United States of America was first founded, it was a place for foreigners to travel to get a brand new start in the land of the free. It was a place where people were accepted because everyone who came here was a foreigner. They learned to live together and formed the country despite of their differences. All of them wanted one thing that they did not get in their old country: freedom. America is a melting pot of different cultures and ethnicities striving for the “American dream” of having a family, getting a good job, and living in a house with a “white picket fence.” America has changed though; it is no longer as simple as I am an American to everyone around me just because I live in America. Prejudices form against certain religions and ethnicities because of things happening all over the world, and if ones’ culture or religion speaks out against or attacks America, he/she is no longer considered an “American” to everyone else around them. The American illusion is that all Americans share the same values: individualism, equality, freedom, and respect. However, the American reality is that prejudices against “Americans” arise in times of tragedy, war, and disagreements over beliefs. Who is considered “American” is constantly changing for all of those reasons.

Throughout World War II, Americans were scared of Japan because we were fighting them overseas, but it wasn’t until December 7, 1941 that Americans were truly scared of all people with Japanese ethnicity. Once Pearl Harbor happened, every Japanese person in the United States of America became a threat, especially on the west coast where many lived, worked, and loved. A lot of Japanese Americans, even though they were originally born in America, were taken in to POW camps here in the USA to make sure they could not do any more damage to our country by being spies or collecting intelligence. Some Americans turned on their friends because they were scared of what they might be capable of even though they might’ve known them their whole life. America’s media and government got in to American heads and made them afraid of every Japanese American person.

Take this picture from Dr. Seuss, it depicts Japanese Americans getting TNT and “waiting for the signal from home” to detonate it inside of our country’s borders.Even though a physical attack is not really what Americans were scared of, this picture depicts an American’s worst nightmare at the time. It made Americans not trust Japanese Americans in any way. Japanese Americans were not considered “Americans” again for decades even after they were released from the POW camps because their ethnicity was still blamed for Pearl Harbor. Even though unmoral, Americans were trying to protect their way of life by putting the Japanese Americans in to POW camps. If one of them was a spy and delivered inside information to Japan, America could have been attacked again or more soldiers could have perished from shared war plans. It wasn’t just that “they hated the Japanese”; it was that they were terrified of them harming more Americans unjustly in their eyes. Americans do not only have prejudice against other “Americans” once their country is attacked though; they can also not consider certain people “American” because of the history their ethnicity has with Americans.

During the Civil Rights Movement of 1954–1968, African Americans were fighting for their rights because they were seen as inferiors to the Caucasian population in America. They were still “American,” but they were inferior “Americans.” This is because they had a different history than Caucasians in America. African Americans were be brought over to America in huge ships to be slaves to Caucasians. This fact is the reason why “Americans” felt superior to them because at one time they could’ve owned them. Slavery was abolished in 1865 because it was cruel and inhuman, but African Americans were still fighting for their rights one hundred years later. One hundred years later they were still barely considered “Americans.” Historically, whites characterized blacks as inferior in a number of categories: they were less intelligent, less civilized, and less moral for an example. These prejudices linger still, but in the civil rights era, Americans seemed to cling to the power they held over their co-inhabitants. African Americans might’ve been seen as “American,” but they were not held as high up as the “Caucasian Americans.”

America prides itself on equality, but even in the present day, African Americans are not seen as equal. One hundred and fifty years after abolishing slavery African Americans are still fighting for certain jobs. It is not fair. We should be apologizing to them for what we did. Slavery is immoral and revolting. It is not something we should be proud of, and as a country, we aren’t proud of it. But, why aren’t we giving African Americans the respect they deserve when it was Caucasians’ fault in the first place they never got any? We should be on our knees begging for forgiveness from them, but instead, we are making them fight for jobs that Caucasians get easily and harassing them in the streets for simply being different. African Americans were America’s main prejudice until September 11, 2001, but after that day, Americans were forced to shift their attention to a bigger issue.

After 9/11 happened, Muslims were feared everywhere in the United States of America. It didn’t matter if they were born here, if they were just traveling, or if they were an immigrant. Every Muslim was stared at by wandering suspicious eyes of the Americans to check and see what they are doing. Among other things, some Americans feared for their lives in the presence of Muslims because of 9/11. Mosques and Muslims in America were watched very closely. Muslims were not even able to build a mosque, Park 51, near the twin towers site because Americans felt as if it was offending to those who lost their lives in the disaster. Even over ten years later, I feel like there is still some wariness towards them. Muslims were not and still are barely considered “Americans’ to many in this country just because we were terrified of them for so long. We do not want to associate our country with them anymore. Believers in the Islam religion are said to be the “attackers” of the twin towers on 9/11, but it was a radical group who sent our country in to fear. It was not every Islam believer in the world who sent this attack against us. It would be like Westboro Baptist church attacking another country for their beliefs and having all of America being blamed because we are mostly a Christian nation. Every American would tell that country it had nothing to do with the majority of us; it only had to do with the Westboro Baptist church. Which is why, all Muslims should not have been feared after the attack. Not every Muslim is part of this radical Islamic group but that is exactly how America acted and is still acting. We are being hypocrites within our nation which is something that the president needs to address.

One of the major American issues discussed when it comes to the 2016 presidential election is illegal immigrants here in the United States of America and what should be done with them. Most of the illegal immigrant population includes Mexicans who came here looking for a better life than they could get in Mexico. Everyone in this country was at one time an immigrant which I discussed earlier in this paper. When our ancestors were immigrants, they did not have to sign up for citizenship before coming here. Once they arrived on this soil, they started doing their part to help their new country. America is a place other countries envy because of the freedom that our forefathers put in to place for us. People from those countries –North Korea, Syria, Iran, Cuba- come to America to become an American, so they can have such freedoms. But once they get here, they are not considered “Americans” because we have a prejudice against them for “taking our jobs.” America is no longer acting as a safe haven for other nations that are trying to control ones’ every action and thought, but instead, America is a country who tries to control ones’ every action and thought while telling one that he/she has all of this freedom. Instead of having a prejudice against immigrants who are “taking our jobs,” we could strive to become more intellectual that way they could not take away your dream job because you have more knowledge on the subject. Or as a country, we could help these immigrants become legal, build a family here, and help them strive for a better life which is why they came here in the first place. They came here to be accepted and to possibly get some money for their families that have no income back in their home country.

I disagree with the prejudices that most Americans have. I believe Americans are those who live in America. It does not matter your race, religion, or your beliefs. I believe most “Americans” are people striving to do their best in life. Even if they come here from other countries to do so, they are still American to me. If the government has a problem with illegal immigrants, it is because we made a wonderful country with freedom and pride that many want to be a part of. Instead of kicking them out of our country, we should help them get their citizenship. What if when America was being colonized, their government acted like we do now? Half of this country might not even be here because their ancestors would’ve been kicked out for not knowing the “right language;” the “American” language. America is about freedom, and being American is about believing in that freedom while making sure it is possible for everyone.

Even though America is a place built on freedom, as a country, we do not really see this freedom anymore. People are judged on their ethnicity, religion, and beliefs, instead of being judged on who they are as a person. If America goes through a disaster, it will not matter if they are American or not. “Americans” will turn on them because they need someone else to blame other than themselves. “Americans” will always need someone else to feel superior to because that is what our country has turned in to in the present world. We are no longer a place known for our freedom; we are now known for being power hungry and doing anything to keep that power even turning on innocent people within our own country.

Work Cited

Dr. Seuss. Waiting for the Signal from Home. n.d. Wikipedia. Political Cartoon. Web. 29 October 2015.