What Does It Mean to Be American?

I am tired of all the anti-DREAM posts telling fellow DREAMers to ‘go home.’ What part of “DREAMers are Americans too” don’t people understand? Is being American only about having ‘paperwork’ to prove legal presence in this country?

In Documented Dreams, Luis, a 17-year-old DREAMer states “to me, an American is not simply someone who was born here and has proof of citizenship; rather an American is someone living in and contributing to this country, while trying to pursue the American dream…documentation has nothing to do with the rights of a person.”

I asked other DREAMers for their input over at DAP, expecting a variety of answers, but nonetheless surprised by the intellectual depth and maturity expressed in the replies.

Swim responded by expressing an understanding of ‘American’ as a cultural identity:


I think a shared cultural experience makes you feel American. Just like our US citizen peers, we’ve gone to school here and learned the history of the United States. We feel proud to call this country our home. For a lot of us all our memories – our *firsts* – such first time rode a bike, learned to swim, first dance and first kiss – happened right here in this country. We’ve been here through all the fads from pogs to beanie babies. We’ve been here through the tragedies America has dealt with (Columbine, 9/11, Katrina).

I feel Swim is right in his definition. While I do have memories of my country of nationality, I share many firsts in America that are far more special and closer to my heart. It is here that I got a chance to play football on a Women’s soccer team. Living in America, I learned not to be ashamed of my sexual identity. I learned to accept and tolerate difference, the practice of freedom of expression, the value of privacy and other much-touted American values. I continue to vehemently oppose the foreign policy of this country and to consider myself stateless at times, and yet I cannot deny that in the glittering lights of the city bustling with liberal energy, I find peace and sanctuary.

Why are we pushing so hard to be considered American? Because the opposition sees us as foreigners, invaders, ESL speakers and ‘Others’ who are out to ‘Mexicanize’ America. Until they can start to consider DREAMers as one of THEM, as American as them, we are going to keep fighting their scapegoating of the ‘illegal alien.’

One DREAMer briefly stated: “Being an American is an idea. Anybody can be an American just as long as they love this country and appreciate it for what it is.”

The first sentence hit pretty close to what I had been thinking. Interesting, in other words, national identity is just an ideology. And nationalism, a hegemonic identity used to differentiate between us/them, acting as some sort of driving justification for the existence of the nation.

The next reply by String was even more enlightening:


To me however it is nothing other than beating the nationalism drum for the gazillionth time. Which in my opinion breeds nothing more but hate and ignorance. Really, how is America any different from the rest of the free world? People everywhere love and hate, express their likes and dislikes, live and die. Everywhere you go you’ll meet shit people and you’ll meet characters who will go out of their way to help you even on their worst day. What does it mean to be American? I don’t know, I’m just an average Joe trying to make a living, do I fit your definition of an American?

The last statement speaks profoundly about who we are and the nature of our existence. What really ties us all together is the day to day struggle of earning a living and being alienated from ourselves and those around us. Immigrants are as much working class as the working class people who feel threatened by us. We are all in the same boat, struggling to make it, to keep afloat while being alienated from ourselves and screwed over by a government pandering to corporate elites. It is high time that we realize that we are more alike than different, and start bridging the boundaries of misunderstanding between us. When looking for a ‘scapegoat,’ don’t look sideways, look upwards.

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