What does it mean to be an “American”? I’m an “American”, are you an “American”? Are your parents “American”? Anyone who is born in the United States or who has their citizenship will say they are an “American” but, do they really know what that really means? You can ask in our English literature class to all twenty something students this same question and I can almost guarantee you that you will get twenty something different answers. I guess that is the point of this assignment and the beauty of this country to show that there is no wrong answer to, what it means to be an “American”?
A quote that has stuck with me for years about what it means to be an American was made by one of our greatest presidents, FDR. During his remarks to the daughters of the American Revolution he said,
“Remember, remember always, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.”
It is true that we are a country built by immigrants who have worked hard to change this great nation. We can go all the way back to when some of our first emigrants first arrived at New England, the Puritans. They left England for the same reason many of our parents and grandparents leave their countries. They left because the Church of England was corrupt by selfish leaders. John Winthrop was one of those Puritans who made the journey into this New World. Aboard the Arbella he gave his sermon of Model of Christian Charity. He said,
“For we must consider that we shall be as a City upon a Hill, the eyes of all people are upon us; …”
Although many of us could interpret Winthrop’s “City upon a Hill” as an example to the world of the benefits of liberty and freedom. It is good to point out that these colonists were not necessarily religious refugees seeking freedom from oppression. They were more like revolutionists who were committed to reforming the Church of England from the inside. Their city on a hill was to be a Godly, Christian, Puritan City. It was suppose to be a model of Christian society that could serve as a blueprint for the reform of the Church of England.
Although this city never came to fruition, the image of the city upon a hill had staying power. It has echoed itself throughout American history describing the United States as a beacon of liberty in an oppressive world. In the United States today its citizens have more freedom than the citizens of many other countries. We have the freedoms of speech, religion, and the press. These are protected by the first Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Other countries don’t have these rights or freedoms. Some cannot practice any religion they want. In others women don’t have equal rights. While in others women do not even have a choice of whom they marry. For all these reasons many people that include our parents, grandparents, etc. leave their native countries and make their journey to America to become “American.”
As I previously mentioned I am “American.” I was born in Texas. I came to NYC a little over 4 years ago. And although being an “American” is a little different in Texas than it is in NYC I think we can all agree that one thing is certain that being an “American” has to include having freedom, having an opportunity for a better life and having the hope for a better tomorrow.
Winthrop, “A Model of Christian Charity”