Being “American” is an abstract ideal that is messy and broad and tough to tackle. The American Identity could mean something different to everyone and still be held as a valid representation. This identity is shaped through personal experience, education, and national origin/placement (for example, people in Ireland might identify someone as American but someone from Texas may not identify that person as American).To me, someone is American if they are a long term “citizen” in the United States. The word citizen is in scare quotes because I define an American citizen as someone who at minimum just exists in one of the 50 states. You need not be naturalized, participating in the advancement of the U.S. economy (i.e. working), or a student in school, although this may inevitably be the case based on age, to be a “citizen”. To be clear, I would not consider any person who has entered the United States with intention to return back to their home country an American as I have described that term to be. I also do not use the term citizen to mean someone who is identified as a legal member of the American society. That term is just to show that the type of person that I described is an American just like the people who are born here or who are naturalized.
I understand that many people would totally disagree with my philosophy and that is okay. People may think differently but that does not conclude my argument to be false. There are immigrants in this country that have contributed more to the economic and social growth of this nation than I and yet I am a legal American member and they are, at best, not well defined and I don’t know how that is acceptable. Let us not forget to acknowledge that under that notion, the only true Americans would be the NATIVE Americans that EUROPEANS enslaved and ripped land from. Those who come to this country with intentions on staying for the rest of their lives, but do not contribute to society are still Americans but just “mere fruges consumere nati,” who are not useful members of society (Franklin 472). The inhabitants of the United States, should intend and work toward participating in giving back to a country that gives so much to them in any way they can, not just living off the fat of the land like parasites feed off their hosts.
Americans are a mixture of people from all over the world who have come together to create better lives for themselves and their families. This history of the United States does not allow (seamlessly anyway) for anyone except for Native Americans to claim citizenship through birth. The “non-American” slaves that were brought into America to develop the land and further the economy reproduced and bore children that were not considered legal citizens. Benjamin Franklin beautifully states,
“Much less is it advisable for a person to go thither, who has no other quality to recommend him but his birth. In Europe it has indeed its value; but it is a commodity that cannot be carried to a worse market than that of America, where people do not inquire concerning a stranger, what is he? but, what can he do? If he has any useful art, he is welcome; and if he exercises it, and behaves well, he will be respected by all that know him; but a mere man of quality, who, on that account, wants to live upon the public, by some office or salary, will be despised and disregarded” (Franklin 472).
Franklin outs an emphasis on service that I do not feel is necessary to the claim of the “American” title but is an important responsibility of Americans. We must go back to this original and raw idea of what an American looks like, including everyone this time around, regardless of race, color, or contribution.