Distinctiveness among people helps to shape and create identity. Every person will have a unique personality, family and experiences that make them who they are. My personal beliefs and family help to piece my being together.
I feel that they are many different aspects that go into making me, me. First off, my family is mostly Italian. With a last name like Cimilluca, I’m guessing you had already guessed that. Yet I have blonde hair and blue eyes--not your stereotypical Italian. My family’s heritage is a big part of my identity. Many things that I take part in and traditions that remain with me through the years are based upon my heritage. My great grandparents on my Italian side are still alive. My great grandmother told me how she wanted to be American. She said she only spoke Italian in her home, but wanted to be an “American girl.” I always heard stories of my great grandparents becoming “true” Americans, losing some of that precious “old country” heritage along the way.
I am also a female; I feel very strongly about woman’s rights. My grandmother always spoke of her mother and her fight for woman’s rights. I feel connected to the movement, knowing a woman in my family was involved. This has taught me that as an American woman I have rights that woman in other countries do not have. Therefore I take full advantage of them.
There are so many factors that I’m just thinking about now. One is the way that my family raised me to be “American.” I know that can mean something different to everyone. To me and my family it was always marching in the Memorial Day parades; whether it was girl scouts, dance class or band, I walked in every parade my town ever had. It was saying the pledge of allegiance and it was putting your hand on your heart when you sang the National Anthem. Now it’s voting and talking about the town politics. I never realized how political my family was until I got old enough to understand just what it was they were talking about.
This brings me to the point of where you live and how it affects you. I, for all of my life have lived in a two-stoplight town, Nowhere, USA. It is a mostly Christian town that does not adapt well to other cultures and beliefs. My mother is very liberal and my father is conservative. As a younger child I spent a lot of time with my mother; she instilled the morals that I have today. She taught me to embrace everyone equally, no matter their race, religion, sexual preference, etc.
I was very lucky to be able to travel to Rome, Italy, when I was 14. I went with my church’s youth group. I was going for World Youth Day, to see the Pope. Although I went with my catholic church, I met so many incredible people from different cultures and background, who spoke different languages. This was my first experience being able to see what other countries thought of America. It made me take a step back and look myself. Some people wanted to take pictures with me because of my blonde hair blue eyed, “all-American girl” look, while some people threw things at our group’s American Flag.
I think it was when I got back from that trip I really started to figure out what my identity was. I am American, I’m white, I’m a woman, I’m Italian, I’m German, I’m Irish, I’m Catholic, plus anything else I’m forgetting. I am a supporter of Americans, whether gay, lesbians, Jews, Arabs, Jehovah’s Witnesses or whatever, I am ME. We are all in this country together, living here and dying here. We all deserve the same rights even if we don’t have the same beliefs.
Living in an area with such a lack of diversity, there are bound to be disputes when a minority group voices their opinion. Living in this isolated world leaves many people in my town very insensitive to others' beliefs and other people’s needs.
Outside of my high school we have bricks that people can write personalized messages on; I think everyone in the town has a brick or two. Usually bricks say something like “John Smith, Class of 1967.” One day someone realized that one of the bricks said “Jesus is Lord.” I of course, growing up in a catholic family, did not see it as a problem. We have a total of three Jewish families living in the area; one particular family, the Bucknell* family, is always involved in political feuds. Mrs. Bucknell realized what this brick said and she went to the town legal system and demanded it be taken out. The town reacted lackadaisically; she went up higher and she didn’t stop until the brick was removed from the front of the school. My little town did not react to this change well. Many people put up signs on their cars, homes and in their lawns saying “Jesus is Lord” in big bright red letters. I had never seen such open acts of solidarity. I saw this from my teachers and from parents of friends, people whom I looked up to. Luckily my church and family did not take part in the blatant discrimination and I identified myself as empathetic towards the Bucknell family for having to deal with such a “nasty” group of closed-minded people.
Although my family is neutral in these disputes it seems as though we are always in the cross-fire. My grandfather is the town assessor and he has been accused of making assessments higher on the Bucknell family. My grandfather of course is not biased and there was no difference in my family’s assessments from other people’s assessments. The Bucknells have four children and a very nice large house; therefore it has a high assessment. Mr. Bucknell was one of my teachers and Mrs. Bucknell asked me to give her oldest daughter singing lessons. She has attended all of my pageants to hear me sing and always praises me. It seems odd that she would think that my family would be capable of that kind of discrimination.
My mother raised me to be aware of everyone around me and to accept everyone for who they are not what they look like or what they believe in. Growing up I wasn’t exactly the “cool” kid; let me rephrase that, I wasn’t cool at all. I was the kid who stood up for anyone who needed help and was always looking to better their life. I know it sounds corny but it was and still is me.
When I was in sixth grade a boy named Mark* moved to New York from Honduras. He knew about 3 English words, hello, no, and toilet. I stayed after school with him and a speech teacher every day of sixth grade to help him learn English and the American culture. I was fascinated by the fact that he didn’t know the Star-Spangled Banner or the Pledge of Allegiance. I felt as though it was my job to teach him everything that I knew about America; I even had my mom make him an apple pie.
When I really sit down and think about it I guess that I’ve had more experiences with American Identities then I realized. It’s almost impossible not to: we live in America and are constantly surrounded by its ideals and laws. I’m sure that everyday I discuss some element of a new law being put into effect or the War with Iraq. Whether we know it or not American Identities are at the forefront of our everyday lives.
“The Framers of the Bill of Rights did not purport to 'create' rights. Rather, they designed the Bill of Rights to prohibit our Government from infringing on rights and liberties presumed to be preexisting.” ~Justice William J. Brennan, 1982
America was known as the country of freedom and a place to get away from any injustice. Come to America and allow your dreams to come true. America seems to have a political identity and a social identity. We are constantly judged and looked upon by other countries by what our leaders do. I don’t think it’s fair to judge a whole society by what our President decides to do. Yes, we have a democracy but we don’t have that much say in politics. We especially don’t have a say in foreign policy that may be affecting other countries, leading to them have negative images of our country. I think our political identity should be more judged on what individual citizens say about other countries. We have way too many different thoughts and views in this county to identify with one. We should not all be filed under Bush’s ideas because I for one I do not agree at all with our current President’s ideas. I think our identity changes throughout time with what is happening. We were capitalists, anti-fascist, and anti-communist. Now our county is focused on anti-terrorism. Identities change; they have to in order to make progress and grow. I feel that it’s important to be flexible in our nation’s changing views. It’s easier to understand if you compare it to a child growing up. Take a five-year-old girl, for example: she is probably most focused on when her mom will come get her from the babysitter’s house and what she’s going to eat for dinner. As she ages she’ll begin worrying about other things, like boys and make up, simply because times change and to be successful and productive you also have to adapt and change your identity.
As far as our social identity goes, it has been painted for us throughout the years. I think the most common stereotype of an American woman is blonde hair, blue eyes, a small waist line, a big bust line with long slender legs. Thanks to our media that is what we most see as the “American girl.” But really isn’t the “American girl” any girl who is a citizen of America? She could be fat or thin, short or tall, black, white or somewhere in-between.
When I was visiting Italy, I ate at McDonald’s. I purchased a Happy Meal and it came in one of those cardboard boxes you used to get when you were younger. On the box it had a Barbie representing each country of the world. The Barbie representing America was wearing a full cowgirl suit, hat, boots and all. Is that really how European people see Americans?
Our identity should be seen as what we really are. We are a beautiful mix of many different races and beautiful skin tones. The face of American Identity would have to be an ever-changing face. America is always changing, we have been called the “melting pot” and that’s what we are. We now also carry the identify of a “morphing pot,” ever changing and morphing into something else.
I feel that it is important to teach our children to look at people for what kind of person they are, not what they look like or what their dialect is. It’s an important step for a future with less hatred and discrimination involving Americans against Americans.
*note: names have been changed