What is the American Identity is the question that I am still struggling to figure it out, studying, reading, trying to make a sense of it. Nevertheless, participating on a webinar about the topic I found very interesting that Britons (or Europeans, just to generalize) seem to believe that the American people still haven’t found out exactly what they are, their identity.
I understand the point of view in terms, because in Europe one just say that he is German, or French or Danish and no further questions will be made, but in immigration countries it is a bit more complicated. Brazil is the country I come from. Just like North America or Australia, natives are indigenous people and everybody else is the result of a mixture between races. Having a mixed blood has never stopped me from knowing my identity. Yes, I do have Russian, Portuguese and Spanish blood but I am Brazilian because of the way I was brought up, because of the food I ate, because of the TV programs I watched, the music I heard and the books I read. There are so many ways of describing national identity.
I come to debate this matter because my husband, who is British-German, always says that I am European because of my blood, but then I deny it, saying that I am Brazilian because of my way of life. With my son it is even more complex, because he is a third culture kid, born in Dubai from an European father and a Brazilian mother. His situation is not complicated because of my husband and myself only, but because he has been living in so many countries since birth that it is difficult for him to see himself belonging to a certain place. He belongs to the whole world.
But back to the main dilemma, wouldn’t North Americans think the same Brazilians do? They also have Irish, Italian, Japanese, Chinese and Mexican blood just to name a few, but although they state that they are Americans, they would rather emphasize at first hand the part of the country that they come from, like San Francisco in California, than explaining that they are Americans with Portuguese or Thai roots. The national history, certain peculiarities, customs, among other aspects, is what unite people giving them the sense of belonging to that one place.
Obviously the question of finding identity can be a very philosophical and psychological one, when roots and actual citizenship is that last thing that counts. The person who has truly and wholly found himself or herself and has understood all the universal questions, may throw the first stone. I believe that the biggest problem of humanity is exactly this: the urge of understanding who we are and how we deal with everything and everyone around us. This philosophical and in terms psychological question is linked with identity in terms of digging-up-inside. Who I am and what should I do with my life? What do I like and dislike? What should or shouldn’t I put up with?
Whether Americans are or aren’t sure about their identity when related to roots, at least they are sure about this one thing that unite them: they live to try to achieve the American Dream. But don’t we all aim for that, apart from Communist thinking and casta-based societies? Why is it called American dream? Is it a synonym for success just like Big Mac is a synonym for a hamburger? Does it mean that I should feel American now?
I believe that Americans know who they are and take great pride in it. They are sons and daughters of immigrants (including here the native Indians as well), who with or without personal slavery past made the country what is it today. They are insular, nosy in other people’s business and trendsetters. Having said that, what else do they need to know, from their own perspectives?
Luciana B. Veit