Part One: Personal Reflection
In almost every class that I have taken here at Fredonia or in my educational career the teacher usually asks the class to say or write a brief description of themselves on the first day. All of the answers I’ve heard were all the same, including people's names, where they were from, and possibly a hobby or two. Most people don’t stop to really think of who they are or what their true identity is. Before this assignment I was one of the people that never stopped to think of who I had become over the years, or more importantly why I have become who I am. I was quite surprised at what I found out once I started actually thinking about it.
I was born in Buffalo, New York, and lived in the same house my entire life. I went to the same school from kindergarten to eighth grade. Although I have lived in one place I have seen a significant portion of the United States. Without a doubt my travels around the country have had an impact of who I am today. I believe this is because my travels weren’t just a vacation but also a learning experience. I was able to see many different historical places and experience the vast cultural differences that exist in this country. I would learn about places such as Gettysburg or Plymouth in school and the next summer see them in real life. That experience gave me a whole new respect and understanding for American history that other students didn’t get. Another benefit of my travels was the exposure to different cultures and ways of living. When I was little I was surprised at how different people could be when they were from the same country, from what they ate to how they talked and where they lived. My parents encouraged me to try everything and experience all that I could. I believe this helped me learn to be more accepting of different people, and had a large effect on my personal identity.
Obviously my family has dictated who I have become over the years. My mother is a banker and my father has done many different jobs, but currently works as an electrician. Together they have taught me what you can earn with hard work and the value of the money you earn. In the past few years I have been working with my father as an electrician and carpenter. Through this I have learned skills that I can use in the future. Also I have learned to have pride in my work and that things should be done right the first time, because in the end short cuts usually end up being more work. My parents always made enough money to live comfortably but not much more than that. This helped me learn the value of the things I had. I was provided with the things that I need but I had to work for the things I wanted. I was always taught that things don’t come free but that you had to earn everything. I only have one other sibling, an older sister. When we were young we did not get along very well, and often got in fights. Once we got older we began to get along better. She has an impact on who I have become. Being the youngest cousin by at least four years also made growing up rough. Once we all hit a certain age the difference didn’t really matter anymore, though. My uncle also played a large role in who I am today. When I was growing up he took me along with him when he would do things that parents didn’t enjoy doing. When I was young he had a well-paying job but no wife or children. He would usually spend his money on fun things like cars or ATVs. He taught me how to ride snowmobiles as well as how to hunt. He was very caring and always wanted people to have fun. One evening when I was around twelve we were out on a snowmobile ride I hit a patch of ice and lost control. I drove his snowmobile off a five-foot cliff into a small creek. The whole time we were getting it out he kept asking if I was ok. I wasn’t hurt at all but the snowmobile was damaged extensively. The only thing that mattered to him was that I was ok. Once he became married and had a child he chose me to be his son’s godfather. This meant a lot to me and will always be a big part of my life.
When I was five years old my parents got me into Boy Scouts. I remained a member until I turned 18 and received the rank of Eagle Scout. During this time I was able to travel to Canada, West Virginia, New Mexico, and Florida. In each of these places I was given the opportunity to do things that most people can’t do in a life time. I’ve climbed mountains, white water rafted, shot a variety of guns, saw many wild animals, and hiked over a hundred miles in two weeks, just to mention a few. The skills I have learned in Boy Scouts have helped me be prepared for almost any challenge I will face. The Boy Scouts also taught me morals and values that will stay with me for the rest of my life. Boy Scouts also allowed me to help my community by doing volunteer work. To earn the rank of Eagle Scout you must plan and execute a community service project. For my project I built a walking path over a small ravine to go to their community center. I have also made many friends from all over the United States through my experiences.
My family has never been huge in celebrating our heritage, but lately I have been trying to learn more about the cultures my family has come from. My ancestors came from Ireland, Germany, and Poland. All of these places have unique and interesting cultures. No matter where my family is from I love being an American and having the freedoms that means.
Religion has played a large role in who I am today. I was raised Roman Catholic and attended church every Sunday for basically my whole life. I was baptized, had my first communion, and became a confirmed Catholic. My mother was the role model for my religion. My father never really practiced a religion but would go to church with my family on holidays. Since I have gone to college I haven’t gone to church as much, but it still plays a role in my life.
The latest event to have shaped who I have, or will, become is college. I decided to go to SUNY Fredonia because it was far enough away from my house to dorm but close enough to visit my family. The size of the campus also made a large impact on my decision. I have always been shy when meeting new people so the small class sizes were great. The small classes also allowed professors to help students on an individual basis while still asking for independent thoughts. When I first started college I choose the major of physics and aerospace engineering. These majors were very challenging I was not prepared for the amount of work they demanded. I also became very ill and ended up having to change majors to business. I enjoy taking the business classes but am glad that I attempted the harder major. During my years at Fredonia I made some very close friends. I lived with them for two years in the dorms and another two years in an apartment. They had a significant effect on the person that I am today.
Thinking about my future has changed who I am as well. Now that I am so close to graduating I’m really looking at what I want to do with my life. I will have a degree in business but I have already gotten multiple job offers for electricians’ positions in various companies. These decisions will easily change who I will become and can be slightly frightening.
In doing this assignment I’ve truly realized how and why I have become the person I am today. By traveling the United States I have learned that people can be very different from each other in the same country. Although this may be true we all consider each other Americans and enjoy the benefits that means. My morals, values, and ethics came from my family and Boy Scouts. My friends and classes at college helped me mature and become more of an adult. The decisions I will make in the very near future will most certainly change who I will be. These are the major things that have shaped my identity into what it is today. Without one of these things I believe I would be a very different person and have a different identity altogether.
Part Two: My Experience with American Identities
As I stated in part one I was born and raised in Buffalo, New York. Due to my family’s financial status I attended Buffalo public schools from grade K all the way till graduating high school. During my education career I was always a minority to other ethnic backgrounds, whether it was African Americans, Hispanics, or Asians. I enjoyed making friends that had different ethnicities or religious beliefs. I’m glad I went to a public school rather than a private school. It helped me realize how unique and wonderful of a country we live in.
The time when I best remember experiencing American identity was during my sophomore year of high school. I attended Hutchinson Central Technical High School which was one of the best Buffalo public high schools. There was an entrance exam to get in, which singled out the people that wanted to receive a good education. This meant that there were rarely confrontations and other distractions from the lessons. My freshman year I would always hang out with my friends from grammar school who were very similar to me. My grammar schools seemed to be more segregated than my high school. People became more accepting of other peoples differences once we entered into high school. Once I started to branch out and make new friends, I realized how different people’s cultures could be, even when they lived in the same general area. This would vary from the way they dress, to what they ate for lunch, to the way they talked.
During lunch I would sit at a table that was very diverse. We all had different religions and ethnic backgrounds that dictated the way we acted or what we ate. My Jewish friend could not eat anything that was not kosher. Being a Roman Catholic myself I could not eat meat on Fridays during Lent. And my Asian friends liked food from their own culture. I realized after seeing how different our food selection was how tolerant the United States really is. The law says that the schools must prepare different meal options for people that cannot eat the original meal that was prepared. This allowed all of the ethnic and religious groups to be treated equally. There was always a kosher meal option in all of the lunch periods. Also there was always the choice to have your meal with or without meat. Not only did this allow Catholics to practice their religion but vegetarians could also follow what they believed in. If you did not like or could not eat any of the school-made options you could bring a meal from home and heat it in a microwave the school provided. My Asian friends would often do this, bringing foods that were extremely exotic to me. My friend Duy brought lobster in one particular day. I have eaten lobster many times before but never saw it prepared like this before. He also said that the brain was his favorite part, which was surprising to me. Once they became old enough to work, my Asian friends got jobs at a Taiwanese restaurant. The food that they cooked and the style that it was prepared in was very strange to me.
Another way that my high school should me American Identity was the dress code that was in place. The rule that specifically showed this was no hats allowed to be worn on school property. The school made an exception for an Arabic girl to wear a veil or hijab. The usual dress code prohibited students from wearing anything on their head. This showed that people of the United States were able to practice a religion of their choosing and not be persecuted.
As you can see the United States is a very open and accepting country. People are free to live the way they want and to create their own personal identity. My examples above show that the American identity is not based purely on race, religion or ethnic backgrounds. It is perceived through the freedoms citizens are given by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
Part Three: My Understanding of American Identities
The dictionary defines identity as “the condition of being oneself or itself, and not another.” The American identity is very different than that of any other country, in my opinion. Our country is not defined by the race, religion, gender, or ethnic backgrounds of its citizens. Instead, America’s identity is thought of as the shared belief in individual freedoms that can be found here. In effect, America’s identity is the right for its citizens to have unique individual identities and to be able to pursue their own happiness.
In almost every other country in the world people can be classified by their race, religion or ethnic background. An example of this would be that 99 percent of all Afghani citizens practice Islam. In some countries people are treated differently due to their race. Many societies have different standards for different genders. In the United States of America there are no distinctions like this. American citizens are free to practice whatever religion they want without repercussions. The citizens are not held to their original beliefs, either. They are free to change their minds when they want and however many times they want. Once someone becomes a United States citizen they share equal rights with every other citizen regardless of your gender, race, or beliefs. You are allowed to be who you want to be without fear. The reason the United States can differ from other countries is our form of government. Through the Constitution and the Bill of Rights citizens are protected as long as they act within the laws. Governments such as dictatorships don’t allow this freedom. The leader of the country can change the laws whenever they want or punish someone as they see fit.
American citizens often vary largely from one another in all walks of life. There are people that are constantly working while others leave plenty of time to do the things they enjoy and have fun doing. There are varying religions and how much people practice these religions. Americans may use their religion in their everyday life or not practice one at all. Citizens have the choice of where to receive an education if they get one at all. Every part of American life can be varied in the United States. People have unlimited choices in America, and that is what I feel separates our identity from the rest.
There are many negative stereotypes associated with Americans. The major stereotypes are that Americans are overweight and lazy. There are also thoughts that all Americans are “red-necks” and stupid. In my opinion these stereotypes are not true. Many American citizens are very fit and active. We often have public sporting events and activities such as marathons and 5k races that usually sponsor a good cause. Most US citizens work very hard to earn what they have and to get to where they are. Businesses in America have raised their standards for job applicants in the last few years. There is a very large emphasis on high school and college degrees. This means that the majority of American citizens have at least a high school diploma. This does not mean that some of the stereotypical people do not exist in the United States. There will be these people in every country that you may visit.
In my opinion, American identity can be defined as having many freedoms as a citizen. These freedoms apply to all citizens of this society. Once you receive citizenship and these freedoms it is very difficult for them to be taken away. The very principle of our country is to allow people to be who they want to be without the fear of being persecuted or alienated. This is done through our government, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Many other countries have tried to follow in our footsteps, but none have been as successful as our wonderful nation.