Since moving, I’ve had a small sense of American pride.
Before you raise your pitchforks and assume I’m going to claim anti-globalist rhetoric, let me explain.
I mean American pride in the good way. Not an us vs. Them mentality or white supremacist (Who claim nationalism as if White people is a nation – ugh). I mean in the sense that since moving, I’ve had to take a step back to understand what being an American really is, because I spend at least once a week justifying who I am to people throughout Europe.
Commonly, Americans, especially white Americans, will label themselves with the country of descent. This could be 1 or two generations, or 20. The name Kelly can go on for a long time in the States, giving you an appearance of an Irish origin. But it’s different.
In the States, there are multiple groups of cultures. Including multiple minority groups, you have multiple generations of immigrants. The United States was founded by those in bondage (African, Caribbean, Asian and Native American slaves), prisoners/debtors, and voluntary immigrants. Our country is marred by our crimes against people who would become the foundation of what makes an American, while also trapped in a limbo of repeating those crimes through more modern means (Reporting illegal employees when they call a company out for unsafe work environment, for example).
Prior to moving, I would commonly answer the “What are you?” question with “American with German/Irish descent,” but I’ve quickly changed my tune. My family had not been German nor Irish for 100-200 years. In that span, we had multiple generations, varying my heritage to multiple countries. I haven’t had a DNA test yet, but I’m certain it will show at least 3 regions of Europe.
Also, can I say how fucking privileged that question is? Not only does it require someone who’s family documented a history, but it also requires a history to have been documented. Those whose descent is influenced by bondage, is limited by their means of knowing their origins. They can say African descent without knowing their original culture and their ability to track their heritage is how well a slave owner maintained their records.
I want to reinstate this, because in light of American’s finally paying attention to Institutionalised racism (for the moment), we need to understand how royally fucked what we did to our people. I say our people as Americans, not as a white person, because our debtor prisons and indentured servitudes are not the same. We did not take away an entire populations identity. We did that though to the African American population. We took away their ability to trace their families and cultures; because we wanted cotton and sugar.
For those crimes, we should always be reminded of what we did.
What an American is a frustrating topic. I am torn between labeling my identity as being simply a White American, as if we are our own genetic subset and allowing a name, given to me by the survival of a couple males. I am not German. I may have been born with the last name Shuck – But I can’t claim to be German.
I may be named Meghan, but I definitely cannot connect myself directly to Ireland. I can, however, trace my grandmother’s family back to County Kerry in the mid-1800’s, when for some reason, they left Ireland for the United States, living in Pennsylvania before moving to Missouri.
That’s kind of the difference of being an American than a European. They just know where they came from. Even though cultures have mixed over the years; there were little to no mass immigrations and those cultures who did (Usually, Jewish and in the case of my family, Huguenots), have documented or continued the oral history of the move because it impacted their lives.
If anything, being an American abroad has put me more in the mindset of how my families must have felt. Moving to a new country voluntarily, especially when you are not welcomed (for cultural, religious, political reasons), can make the entire process feel like a waste of time. It’s such a painful mindset to realise you left everything and came to a foreign place, with weather, plant life and animal life; you do not understand or recognise, to only be told on multiple fronts – this place isn’t for you.
With the current tragedy emerging from the States regarding the repeal of DACA; I’m heartbroken that America is up to the same old shit.
We are a country of bringing your weary and willing and we founded the West on the backs of migrants, through abuse and for those not manipulated, hope. We sold an idea of the American Dream and when people came to our country to receive it, we punished them. DACA is more frustrating because they did not commit the crime of wanting a better life – they were children whose parents tried to give them a better life.
And we are punishing them and threatening to send them back to countries they have never known.
Being an American is the idea of a collective. It’s one of many. It’s people from different backgrounds, cultures and religions forming a country. It’s never been perfect and it’s surely profited off harming those most vulnerable. As Americans, it’s time to say enough is enough. We need to question why it was okay for our families to arrive and have a better life, but that’s not fair for others?
Why did my family get almost 256 years in the United States, to create a line of wealth and history; whereas another family is turned away because they are the individuals who would benefit the most (poorer) and would contribute the most? Being an American was told to me as a kid that we can do anything, if we try hard. Regardless of origin and background.
We now know, as adults that it’s a lie. The cards were stacked against minorities, women, the poor and those of non-western religions.
But it doesn’t have to be. We can create that country. We can create what American was meant to be, even if the Founding Father’s were slave-owning rich white guys who wanted liberty to keep their money in the States instead in England. We can never forget the past so we cannot repeat it – but we need to make the decision to change this. We cannot continue to live this life.
The featured image is of my Great Grandfather and grandmother on my father’s side. Like I mentioned before privilege – I only have all of these because I came from a previously wealthy family. Without that, my history would be an expensive search through census records with no background.