When we consider what it means to be “American” different meanings could be derived based on the context. What we have to ask is “who’s talking here?” In the case of our class discussions, we could be talking about how the settlers used this idea, how Europeans see Americans, how Americans speak of Native Americans, how Americans spoke of immigrants, of blacks, of each other… I bring this up because each of these offers a different side to what it could mean to be an American—there is no one answer to this question. To give the most accurate answer to this question we can, we need to consider all of these when we talk about the American identity.
For many years (arguably to this day) the quintessential American has been a white, Christian (often protestant) male. For years, this would be the scope through which Americanism was defined; how did a thing relate to this white, Christian male—going forward referred to as WCM—and how does this WCM relate to that thing? Does it hold relevance or any significant connection? If the answer is yes, then proceed down your figurative flowchart of what Americanism is, and see where it takes you. If the answer is no, then stop there, because you’ve been “othered”. This idea I use here of navigating a figurative flowchart (hopefully) provides a visual as to how we have come to deem something as American throughout the years. It takes us step by step how American a thing is based on the context/who’s talking question I posed earlier.
Now, to answer the second part of this prompt; Do I consider myself to be “American”? Once, again this depends. Technically, yes. I am an American. I was born in Queens, New York, I own an American passport, I have followed American customs my whole life, and have been raised to speak English. By definition, I am an American. Now comes the complicated answer to this question.
Being a person of mixed races (I am white, black and Asian) my flowchart could be shaky depending on when and where I use it. Take me to 1552 in the West Indies—I am not fully white, but I speak English, and my skin is fair. Am I an American? Take me to 1607, Virginia—am I an American yet? 1776, New York—how about now? 1960, Alabama—how about now? The construct of race and how this plays into Americanism could affect my answer. As of today, I am deemed an American, but is this so throughout the course of American history?
The text by Las Casas we discussed in class struck me, being that he tears apart what it means to be a Christian, juxtaposing their treatment of the Indians with his continuous use of the name Christians. He says “This is the first land in the New World to be destroyed and depopulated by the Christians…” proving that, while not strictly speaking American, it is those who exercise ruthlessness who truly own a place. Through their destruction and slaughter, the Christians made the home of the Indians their own; similarly to that in current-day America.
Although America is referred to as “the home of the free, land of the brave” is only seems fitting to tack onto that “…if you can take it first”.