Here's an Identification Project from Colleen Fabritius!
If you have ever traveled outside of the United States, you know that it is a phenomenal experience. If you have not, I suggest you do. Over the summer I was given the wonderful opportunity to go overseas through the fantastic SUNY Fredonia Study Abroad program. I found myself spending a month in Italy, the majority of my time in Florence, studying art history. This just so happened to be my second time traveling to Italy. My luck struck even bigger when my apartment was conveniently located right next to the Duomo and Piazza della Signoria, which is located right next to the Uffizi museum, one of Italy’s most prized possessions. If you did not know, Italy is famous for its absolutely stunning artwork as well as the historic city itself.
This breathtaking experience brought me into close contact with a completely different country and a completely different kind of people altogether. Being in such close range with these people, talking to them on a daily basis, struggling to understand and follow their lifestyle and watching them interact gave me a pretty clear idea of how they feel about us, Americans, as a whole, and to be honest it is not that good
When you step foot in another country, you are there as their guest and you are there to abide by their rules. Italians have an already complete idea of Americans before we even step foot there. From my experience and the conversations I have conducted overseas with said Italians, it bothers me how they all categorize us as loud, self-centered, fast-paced, rude, and especially towards females, for a better word, easy beings--or ,in other words, The Ugly American stereotype. This preconceived notion has been in place for what seems to be a long while.
It just so happened that on my journey to Italy, the infamous cast of Jersey Shore, an American reality television show, was coincidentally filming and living right down the street from me. Having them here reinforced the negative image that these Italians already have of Americans. They view all Americans as Ugly Americans before they actually attempt to get to know you.
I recall one time when we were shopping, the cast of Jersey Shore was nearby. A middle-aged Italian gentleman approached me and asked me what all the fuss was about. I proceeded to explain to him what the show was and what they were doing here. His reaction was not pleasant, as he proceeded to tell me how unwelcome they were and how loud and obnoxious and above all disrespectful they were to the beauty of the city. He even proceeded to categorize all Americans in this way, even assuming that I myself was one of them. To add icing to the cake, the cast of Jersey Shore was not even welcome in the town. The Italians feared that the cast would corrupt the beautiful image of Florence as well as disgrace the Italians themselves. Having the cast there was a big fuss and being pinned as an Ugly American isn’t the best stereotype or one that I want to be associated with.
Being in Italy and being surrounded by a group of different people made me realize that as Americans we do come off differently towards other nations. We are very loud, obnoxious and fast-paced. We live our lives at a faster pace with concerns mostly of money and wealth. But on the contrary there are Americans who are calm, laid-back and respectful. Even with going to another country and sitting in class, learning about the American identity, I still am not completely convinced that there is one identity that fits us all. We are not all one race; we are not all one ethnicity. We are not all loud or obnoxious, but that is the perception that we give off to other countries and that is the identity that we have to come to terms with and deal with when venturing to other countries.
In other words, we are not their favorite foreigners by any means. I believe this stems from the Ugly American stereotype that we put forth through our media and our experiences in other countries, taking Jersey Shore for example. They are not portraying all Americans in the way that we deserve to be portrayed. They are just a few people but the impact they have and the viewpoint that they set up for other countries, especially Italy, is devastating to our appearance and our identity towards other nations. And I personally do not what to be thrown into the same category as the Jersey Shore cast.
My recent trip to Italy was an educational experience, already squashing the preconceived notion of a drunken American. My intentions were strictly to see the beauty that the city has to offer and learn how it became as it is. Yes I did venture out towards the bars and the night life in Florence, but that wasn’t always the case. The majority of my trip I was up at 8 o’clock, exploring the streets or spending hours in a museum.
This trip has taught me that we all stereotype, whether we do it on purpose or not. Italians do it, I do it, everyone does it. The downfall to stereotyping is you are pinning characteristics to somebody who may not hold them whatsoever. Those strangers looked at me and saw an American, a drunk, loud, uncaring American, which is not what I am. I was raised in a more respectful manner and stereotyping doesn’t allow me to portray myself how I wish to be received.
Dago? Polack? Kraut? Hick?
On the topic of stereotypes and myself, I do not personally believe that there is one stereotype that can completely contain my being. We all look at each other and we see differences. We see different colors, different genders, different features, even different attitudes and beliefs. However, these differences are what define us as individuals. Living in America, we are supposed to be American. However, America is made up of multiple cultures and multiple ethnicities; therefore, the perfect American identity does not truly exist. We may be of the same orientation or share the same beliefs, but as Americans, as humans, we are all different.
I myself have never really questioned the perfect American identity or even my identity much before this class. Going through the perfect American stereotype in class has really made me question where I fit and what I would be classified as. I have come to the conclusion that I do not really fit into a typical American stereotype because I myself am a cluster of stereotypes all balled up into one unique individual.
When I look at my background, I guess you could classify me as Italian, Polish, or even German. However ,I do not believe that truly identifies me as a person. When I look into my heritage, I participate in all aspects. Coincidentally, being Italian is a big part of my identity. Although while I was living in Italy, I was viewed as a rude American, I take my Italian heritage to heart. One of the biggest influences in my life has to be my Italian culture. Although I do adore and participate in my Polish and German culture, my Italian family is located generally in the same city and tremendously close for being such a big family. I generally see them at least 4 times a week. The Italian side of my family is who I turn to if anything goes wrong. Do not get me wrong, I absolutely love all of my family, both sides, but my sisters, as well as my Italian cousins, are all mirror images of me. They know me and understand me better than one could ever imagine. I think my Italian heritage helps to define me as a person but it is not all that I am. I am loud, I talk with my hands, I can even speak some Italian and I think that shows in my personality. My Italian heritage is what pushed me to spend time in Italy learning as much about my ethnicity as I could, twice. So I guess you could stereotype me as a Dago. It would not be a lie, but it is not entirely correct.
Another crucial part of my identity is my religion. From the day I was born, I was born into a very Catholic, very intense family. As I grew up, I was bombarded with religion. I received all the sacraments I could, i.e. Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Eucharist and Penance. I attended Northern Chautauqua Catholic School, went to church weekly on Sunday and even attended Sunday school. To this day, I say grace before a meal and pray before I fall asleep. I even attend church on a regular basis and sleep with a rosary next to my bed post. Religion has had a very influential role on my life and I take my religion and God very seriously. Therefore I could be classified as a Catholic. It would not be a lie, but it is not entirely correct.
Another major factor of my lifestyle that truly shaped my identity, is how I was raised. I grew up in a small town, Dunkirk, which is coincidentally right down the road from SUNY Fredonia. The majority of the students in that school were African American and Puerto Rican. I was the minority and I think that truly had an impact on me and my outlook on life. Although I was born in Dunkirk, I spent the majority of my childhood growing up in Forestville on one hundred and twenty acres of land my family owns. From the age of four I have been hunting and driving four-wheelers. Everything I do is considered “Country.” I listen to country music, I wear camouflage, and I even own my own gun. My favorite activities include hunting, hiking and four-wheeling. I did not and, I repeat, not fit in with my high school. The majority of the students listened to Rap and Hip-Hop and wore Southpole and Hollister. I was content in jeans and a t-shirt listening to Country music until my ears fell off. If I had my way, I would be outside in the dirt and fresh air twenty-four seven, rather than inside a building at a desk. There is just something about fresh air and the countryside that brings a smile to my face and reminds me of my childhood.
This is one of the most influential aspects of my life. It was hard growing up in Dunkirk. Throughout Middle School and High School there is pressure to conform and fit in with your friends and the “popular” kids. For my whole Middle School career and beginning of my High School career, I felt pressured to listen to Rap music and dress like a “Prep.” I wasn’t happy, though, and my parents said it showed.
It wasn’t until my junior year that I really started to accept who I was and what I enjoyed. I had a homeroom teacher, Mr. Burnett, and he helped crack my shell. For my junior prom, I attended my boyfriend’s prom in Cassadaga, which if you did not know is a school full of country-loving rednecks. My boyfriend, being the hick that he is, wore a camouflage tux to the prom. Going to a school where not many people respected country music or country folk altogether, I was tortured. I remember sitting in the lunch room during study hall crying because two of my so-called friends had picked on me for hours. But that teacher helped me to realize that there was nothing wrong with country music or camouflage. Coincidentally, that teacher loved country music and lived in the country himself. It took for me to cry my eyes out in school to realize that not everyone likes the same things and that we need to be able to respect each other’s choices. You could call me a hick and it will not offend me. It would not be a lie, but it is not entirely correct.
Aside from those three major aspects of my life, I am much more. I am one of the most kind-hearted human beings. I put everybody before myself, addressing the needs of others before I address my own. I also am one of the most determined and outgoing individuals. I never quit a task that is handed to me and I always put a thousand percent into everything I do. I love trying new things and I will almost always try something once. You could also call me loud and obnoxious. I tend to get loud and I always have a lot of energy and that is a major thing that people see when they look at me. Aside from my straight-forward personality, I believe I am a great person inside and out.
On the outside, I am me. I am not stick thin, like all the other females try to me. I am not orange and do not self-tan. My hair is real; my lips, nose, forehead, they are all my real, natural body parts. I do not go out of my way to buy a three-thousand dollar dress that I will wear one night. I wear what makes me happy and dress and look in a way that makes me happy, not anybody else. I like my style and how I look, I like being different.
So when I look at my background and where I come from as well as the American stereotypes that we picked out in class, I am a tad bit confused. I am not the American Idiot or the Dumb Blonde. I have aspects that could be related to a Hick or a Redneck, but that is not entirely me. I may be obnoxious but I am not the obnoxious CEO of a business corporation or someone who follows the trends. I am just me. If I had to classify myself, I would call myself an individual. I do not believe I fall into any category or stereotype set forth by our class or by anyone else. I am an Italian, German, Polish, Catholic, country loving, outgoing, obnoxious, kind-hearted, loud, thick, style-savvy American, and I am proud.
Throughout the course we have been reading and discussing books designed to dissect America and what it means to be American. But what does it really mean to be American? There is no set nationality, no set race, even no set language. From the beginning of this class, I have started to question American identities and whether there is a single one or not. America is supposed to be the land of the free and has been notably called the “melting pot”, meaning different races and religions are welcome and supported here. Therefore, I do not believe that we can truly be classified as a whole by one small stereotype that does not directly address us all.
American is not like the majority of other countries. Italy is made up of mostly Italians, China mostly Chinese, Japan mostly Japanese, Africa mostly Africans and so on and so forth. However, America is the good ole melting pot. Our whole nation consists of bits and pieces of other nations, other nationalities, other cultures. You may say you are American, and you are, but you are made up of Swedish, Dutch, Italian, and so forth.
But what really makes an American, American? We already established that we are the melting pot of the world, that we have a little bit of everything and anything mixed in. So how do we truly define ourselves? I believe that when you go to define Americans, there is only one word that stands out: individuals. None of us are a hundred percent exactly the same, so how can we all be classified under the same stereotype?
Even though we all are different, there still are stereotypes floating around our country. However, we still do not treat everybody exactly the same. People who enjoy living in the country and playing in mud are considered “hicks” and are “trashy.” People who are blonde and happy are considered to be “dumb blondes” or “ditsy.” We even take it one step father, discriminating against races and against religions. Yes, there are groups of people who can be categorized. We have Catholics, Christians, Italians, and Polish, even Rednecks and Cooperates. The list of groups goes on and on and on. But those groups do not define everyone as a whole. Not everyone enjoys being outside frolicking in nature. Not everybody earns an intense amount of money through controlling companies. As I mentioned earlier, and I stick by this a hundred percent, we are all different. We are all individuals. Sure, we may share common traits, whether it is races, or religions, or even hobbies, while there are many other aspects that separate us.
Now that the semester is coming to a quick end, I have had to re-ask myself a key question, is there such a thing as an American Identity? Can I categorize myself under one stereotype? Even after a whole semester, my answer remains the same, no. I do not believe that there are sufficient identities that can grasp the full potential of America. America was a nation where already established ethnicities ventured to in search of a better lifestyle. With that abundant amount of immigrants and the immigrants that come to this day, we are continuously growing and throwing more characteristics into the melting pot.
To put it in simpler words, I do not believe that America has any identities that we as its citizens have to follow. Individualism means doing what makes you happy, whether that is playing sports or hanging out in nature, even drinking and tanning your life away. However, my argument is that there is no right or wrong claim to be American. America is the land of the free and that freedom pertains to doing what makes you happy. However, although we have mini-identities, such as the Ugly American or Hicks, there is no set overall identity that can encompass all that America has to offer. I am not discriminating or shunning anybody’s way of life, I am just simply saying that their specific way of living does not represent America as a whole, which is where I formulate my idea that there is no underlying identity that connects us all, except for the term American or individual.
However, if you look back to my time at Dunkirk High School or even look at the cast of Jersey Shore, there is an overwhelming pressure to fit in, especially within the teenage population. I felt that pressure and I am sure almost every American has. The media portrays what you are supposed to listen to and how you are supposed to dress. However, does that really make you happy? Not really. Individuality means dressing, acting, listening to what make you as a person happy, not what makes others happy. Even with the pressure to conform, I still believe that individuality triumphs over conformity. Yes you may conform for the time being, but chances are you will remain unhappy until you find your own being, your own identity. It is easy to become what others are but it is even easier to be yourself. Take me for example, it took three years of high school for me to realize I did not fit in nor want to fit in with my high school crowd. Eventually, we all realize that being ourselves is the key to being happy.
Even with the pressure of conformity, the only American identity that I can throw forward and support is individuals. We are all individuals. No two people that exist across the country are identical. We all possess characteristics and views that separate from one another. Therefore how would you classify completely different people under one name? It’s not possible and I do not believe it would do America and Americans justice. There are a bunch of little classifications and God bless them, but as a whole, we are just America, a country brought together by races, ideas, cultures, and thoughts from all over the world. We are different and we are proud, or at least I am. I am proud to have my own views and ideas as well as my own appearance and my own hobbies. I would not have it any other way.
Looking back through my paper, I have come across a multitude of races and ethnicities throughout my lifetime. Even though we may all may be American, we are not all the same by any means. I do not live my life drinking until I cannot see anymore or spend the majority of my time with my pants hanging low listening to Rap music. I do what makes me happy, as do those people. But the thing about it is, is we are all doing something different. There are little identities that America has come to know, such as the Ugly American or Gangsters or even Hicks, but those identities only encompass a small amount of America’s rather large population. With that being said, yes, we put forth little identities that can account for small groups, but as a whole, we are all different, different to the extent that all we have in common is America and our individualism. Therefore, in my eyes I see no surefire claim for identity or even one that stands remotely close that we all can relate to. I just see a country full of individuals striving and doing what makes them happy and that is good enough for me.