What Makes an American?

We are a nation built on contradictions. Our founding principals were fairness, freedom, and opportunity. Yet we had slaves, settled in a place that already had inhabitants, and denied so many the basic right to participate in our Democracy. Today we are a remarkably diverse society. I do not think many other nations have children on a playground asking one another if they are 1/16 Irish, or a quarter German, 1/5 Mexican, or anything else. Our vast ideological, ethnic, and cultural diversities (as well as our diversity of thought), is in my opinion, the defining feature of the United States.   America’s willingness to embrace its diversity, as well as the continuing evolution of that diversity, is what binds us as a people. It allows us to thrive despite the endless contradictions in our society.

Which is why I am dumbfounded by some of the immigration ideas being tossed around by serious (and not-so-serious) presidential candidates. If we build a wall, embrace policies of mass deportation, or take away citizenship as birthright, we are tearing apart the foundation of American society. An America that is culturally, ideologically, or ethnically frozen in time is one that cannot survive. I urge everyone and anyone to ponder a simple question: What makes one an American?

I think it is simple, an American is someone who wants to be an American. Someone who is willing to embrace the contradictions that define the United States. Now, while I myself may be a supporter of amnesty, I certainly understand why most disagree with me on that. I also understand the need for immigration policies that bring order to the process by which someone makes the choice to be an American. However, it is the height of foolishness to think we can freeze America as it is, or somehow create arbitrary rules as to who really deserves to be an American (to say nothing of the basic cruelty of taking away one’s right to citizenship because their parent crossed the border illegally).

I’m reminded of the dead-shark analogy used by Woody Allen in Annie Hall. If our nation stops moving forward, stops evolving, we will sink..


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