29 January 2007

The American Identity

Today, America is well known as the biggest, multicultural nation in the world. This character has been formed by a massive immigration which comes from all over the world every single year. Even since America was found and built as a country in 1783, its population is mostly constructed with the immigration, mainly from Northern and Western Europe at that time; then the area was broaden to other parts of Europe, Latin America, and Asia as widely as we now can see all ethnic groups only in this country. According to such history, it could be said that America is created nation; and this is the most different point I feel from my home country, Japan. Japan is a nation which had been formed with only one race, Japanese, and banned immigration at all. Though we now realize an importance of our nationality as the globalization has been developed, almost all Japanese, including me, have undoubtedly identified ourselves as Japanese, or even have not been seriously aware of doing so, since our families and neighbors are all Japanese. In contrast to such our situation, however, what does “Americans” mean for people who live in America, where various races are mixed and has been made for 224 years? Where do their nationalities belong to?

As a basis of this examination, I want to refer to the historical beginning of immigration and nativism more specifically, especially in the age of Modernism. Including the settlers or natives of America, early immigrants were mostly from Western and Northern Europe, such as Britain and Germany. However, since the end of nineteenth century, so many people immigrated also from Southern and Middle-East Europe and Asia that the population had been diversified. People, who already moved and were constructing their own country of America, were embarrassed with such rapid change occurred in their situation and tried to restore it by discriminating new immigrants. In 1882, the first official discrimination was made towards Chinese immigrants, since they were a threat to natives as cheap labors; and also, KKK revived in 1920 and attacked blacks, Jews, Catholic and others. In addition, the idea of Nativism was brought from people’s anxiety for political and economic structures and safety in America, at this time. Then later, since natives’ worry was deepened as WWI took a place, the law of assigning immigrants to some European countries was signed in 1924. While removing most new comers except whites of Anglo-Saxon, there was another movement of Americanization towards remained immigrants. Unlike the idea of discrimination, this action is based of treating all people in America equally then constructing the country as united. After about 40 years, in 1965, the law of assigning immigrants was abolished; therefore, the population in America was rapidly diversified again. As it was, a positive thought about variety of race and ethnic group in America, called pluralism or multiculturalism, has appeared in a society since 1980s. Though there are also opponents, who see the thought as may bring a collapse of American tradition, as well, any legal oppression of immigrants is gone today under a policy of abolition of racial discrimination and equality. (Natsuki Ariga, The twentieth century of America)

Now, focus on the present America again. Comparing to the Modern era, it seems that people’s views of nationality does not change that much. To prove this, for example, political scientist and historian Samuel P. Huntington shows his thoughts on the side of discriminating immigration in his writing, called Who Are We? The Challenges to America’s National Identity. In the book, Huntington defines America in term of Anglo-Protestant culture and “seems to show far greater concern for the preservation of the culture than for racial equality and the citizenship rights of non-whites.” (Wikipedia) However, not only putting forward American, say “traditional” culture little emotionally, he refers to that in the multicultural society, the loyalty of the immigrants to the United States and its core culture is fragile.” (The New Yorker: critics)

On the other hand, as the thought of assimilating immigrants, Israel Zangwill and Michef-Guillaume-Jean de Crevecoeur show their views of American. Zangwill says that “American ideals are not transmitted by descent but have to be embraced afresh.” Unlike the view of immigrants as a threat to America, which infiltrated first thorough the natives, and also unlike Huntington, his immigrants are “redemptive” and portrayed as “cultural newlyweds, more enthusiastically and loyally love with the country of their choice than citizens-by-descent.” Besides, Crevecoeur describes his American as whom “leaving behind him all his ancient prejudices and manners, receives new ones from the new mode of life he has embraced…” According to his rhetoric, “America’s mission is to continue the trans-ethic demands.” In both Zangwill’s and Crevecoeur’s thoughts, there is an image of “melting pot” as a key. (Werner Sollors, Beyond Ethnicity: Consent and Descent in American Culture)

However, it seems that multiculturalism, the idea of encouraging immigration, is more generally accepted than those kinds of views above. Especially politicians nowadays, such as the President Bush, regularly support massive third world immigration. They push for immigration reform, allowing only immigrants with the education, skills, and wealth into the country. Different from other two types of views, this thought is based on much political and economic strategies of America. Yet, it is still debatable with some problems, such as illegal immigration.

Not only in a field of politics but also in general public, multiculturalism seems to be widely spread today. Moreover, I feel that people think “American” as their characteristics, not as their races. For example, one of my friends was born and lives in America but her parents are Japanese, herself as well. She looks Japanese, she talks Japanese, and she is familiar with Japan; but if I look just at her without such background and knowledge she has, I can say she is American because her sense of value and pattern of manner are so. At least, it is clear that there is something different from Japanese about her; thus I describe her as so American, but Japanese as well. Besides, even I was called as American or being Americanized by my friends, also. According to my friends, I am more self-assertive and active than other Japanese they know and think as who are more shy and quiet. In my experiences, “American” is like a symbol of who is frank and not imbued with a variety of people.

In conclusion, as far as I concerned, “Americans” of today are people who know who they are not only as racial and are able to claim their individuality aloud. Moreover, “Americans” mean multiculturalists. If I take a radical illustration, they are who step into the house with their shoes on, who love fried rice and spring rolls, and listen to R&B. One’s descent is less accounted; then people nowadays choose and define who they are on their own.

Today, the nationality belongs to individual sense. Therefore, people have to claim that they are Americans as they want. Each of those consciousnesses of being Americans and each of people’s love for country which hey believe as theirs are composing and maintaining the present America as it is.

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