Growing up, I didn’t understand that “American” was an acceptable cultural identity. Sure, I was born here, and my mom was born here, and her mom was born here, and so on and so forth, but it never occurred to me that when asked about my background or heritage, I could reply “American.”
Even though my family has been in this country for at least eight generations, I’d claim the most ambiguous aspects of my lineage before describing myself as American simply because I was never taught that America had a culture of its own; one outside of the greed and obesity constantly emphasized in popular culture.
How many times has it been suggested that anything great about the United States can be attributed to our history of immigration? How often have you heard this country referred to as solely a nation of immigrants? These kinds of statements erase the traditional American identity by implying that it doesn’t exist. Technically, yes, we’re all immigrants and technically, yes, we’re all animals but the same way that common sense tells you not to have sex with a sea turtle, common sense should tell you that after four hundred years, the American identity is completely separate from its European origins.
As much as I appreciate the diversity of this great nation and the contributions of immigrants, America, like any other country, has values and traditions of its own. Traditional America isn’t gross consumerism or excessive materialism; it’s making the best of what you have and living within your means. It’s not spending your weekends at work; it’s enjoying a weekend of fishing on the lake. It’s not a ridiculous preoccupation with the Kardashian family; it’s supporting our troops even if you don’t support the war.
My Grandaddy Garfield shot off his own toe hunting. He had rifles mounted on the walls of almost every room of his house. Born in the 1920s, he was self made, and earned respect from blacks and whites alike in a small, segregated town in Georgia. He was a World War II vet that drove a pickup truck even though he could afford a Cadillac. While he had a business mind, he had no desire to live an indulgent lifestyle. As long as he owned his property and could fish as he pleased, he was a happy man, and an American if there ever was one.
We live in a nation of variety, and while I think that immigrants have a right to preserve their native cultures and share it with others, the American culture is not a junction of every immigration wave it has seen. It has an identity of its own that deserves to be acknowledged, respected and celebrated.