Questioning American Identity
When I am asked to consider who I am and my personal identity many things pop in my head. But to be completely honest I’m still finding myself. I think twenty-one is a reasonable age to be learning and discovering who I am and who I will be. There are many factors that play into any one person’s identity. The factors that have affected and shaped my identity thus far would have to be my upbringing and family life, as well as my interests and even somewhat where my family has come from. Obviously there are many more factors that play into an identity such as religious beliefs, political views, and privileges you may or may not have had throughout your life.
I grew up being the oldest of three children in a middle-class working family. My parents are still married, and getting to the end of raising their children. I am the oldest; however, I am also the only girl. Being the oldest meant I always got the harshest punishments, strictest rules, and was simply expected to do everything well, yet was never really rewarded for it. Now that my brothers are in high school, I see my parents easing up, and the rules are much less strict, though my brothers would beg to differ. However, being the only girl had its advantages, so for most things I was “deprived” of, being oldest, I gained in being the only daughter.
My rules were something like this: if you get any grades less than an eighty-five you got a stern talking to, if they were any less than eighty I was grounded. Being grounded for me meant no T.V. or computer time, no going out with friends, no friends could come over, and as I got older it meant the cell phone was taken away for a month, I was not allowed to see or call boyfriends, and it seemed like a new punishment was added each time. Now seeing my brothers put up a fight against my parents baffles me; their punishment consists of maybe a few days of being grounded which adds up to no PlayStation, or going out with friends, the end. My one brother is not a strong student, so as long as he gets a seventy-five or above it’s a good job, kid, maybe next time you can get an eighty.
Other things that my parents did that played into how I am now were my dad’s interrogation questions. By that I mean if I had any desire to go somewhere or do something I got, in rapid fire, Where are you going? What time are you going? Who is going to be there? When are you going to be home? How are you getting home? What are you going to be doing there? Are parents going to be home there? Are you sure you don’t just want your friends to come here? And then finally if I were lucky he would surrender his tight grip and say “fine, be safe, don’t do stupid things, and be home on time.”
While my dad was the interrogator who scared off boyfriends, and even girlfriends who he questioned, my mother was the one who forced us to be involved. Her rule was you must be involved in at least one sport, and when your sports season is over you have to pick up another or join clubs at school. Now she did not go as far as the Tiger Mother, Amy Chua, who wrote Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother and who chose her children’s activities for them, but she strictly enforced this rule for quite a while. For me this was never a big deal because oddly enough I am the most competitive out of my brothers and I, so I was always interested in sports, and I loved being a part of teams. I swam for the varsity swim team from seventh grade all the way through senior year of high school when I was the captain of the team. It was something I loved, something I was at least semi-good at, and I loved the competition. When I wasn’t on swim team, I was either practicing with the boy’s swim team for the hell of it, in a leadership club, or running meetings for art club.
I have always been in love with art even when I was younger. I was the kid who loved coloring and crafts, then I was one of very few kids in middle and high school who loved and took art class seriously, I never got bored when we went on field trips to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, then I took AP Art in high school, and here I am, a Visual Arts and New Media major at SUNY Fredonia. So in a way I’ve always kept art and creativity close to me, and hopefully that pays off when I graduate in the spring this year. Although I make my parents sound somewhat like hard-asses, they are not in all respects. Yes, they were tough on me, and while I hated that growing up, I’m starting to realize that it only helped me grow up, realize what was important, and it made me a tougher, stronger person in the end. But my parents have always been encouraging and strong believers in the notion of doing whatever is going to make us happy, of course within reason. While I know many parents would be extremely disappointed in their child going to school for Visual Arts, or as some of my friends tease me, being a “coloring major,” my parents have always supported me, my dad even helps me since he has an artistic eye, my mom does not always understand some of the art, but she too encourages, and she is very crafty so she is a help and inspiration as well. Not only did they get stuck with a daughter going to school to be a “coloring major,” now my brother is considering going to school for auto mechanics, as well--another field looked down upon by many hard-ass parents. I suppose that’s why they had three kids; maybe my youngest brother will do something over-the-top impressive with his future. But with that, all I’m saying is I have never felt low, or like what I’m doing is a disappointment or not good enough because my parents have always supported it; if I have felt low about my major in college it’s because of my school, and recent events taking place on campus which is a whole other story. So, as a senior in college I think most of what makes up my identity is my upbringing, my parents and family, as well as my interests and what I am pursuing in my life right now.
However, it's not just my parents who been strong supporter of me; my whole family has. I have a very large family, and most people would think it to be strange how close I am to such extended members of my family. I still see my grandparents and a lot of my aunts, uncles and cousins every month. They all get excited when I bring new art pieces home that I’ve done, so overall I have a lot of fans. I love having a big, close-knit family because there is never a dull moment; it can be crazy, but I think having that has taught me to deal with chaos. The only downfall of being so close to your whole huge family is you have more to lose. And some of the losses my family have gone through recently have also changed who I am. Now in some ways we like to compare ourselves to that crazy family in the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding because there’s a ton of us, we can be loud and quite chaotic, and there is always hands down an argument somewhere because my family is extremely stubborn. But instead our movie would be called My Big Fat German Wedding, or My Big Fat Czechoslovakian Wedding. While most people my age do not really identify with their family’s nationality, I do somewhat. Like Jacobson talks about in his book Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race almost all of us are not true Americans, meaning most of our families immigrated to American a handful of generations ago, from various parts of the world.
On my mother’s side of the family we are predominantly German, making me more than a quarter German. On my father's side we are primarily Czechoslovakian. When I was younger we had to do several family trees, and family heritage projects, and I always found it awesome that I was Czechoslovakian for several reasons. One, it was a tricky word that most kids couldn’t say at the time and sure as hell couldn’t spell. Two, I could say it and spell it because my parents taught me. Three, I did not come across any other kids in any of those classes who were also Czechoslovakian. So when it comes to that side of the family I suppose it is not so much that I identify with being Czechoslovakian since I do not know a whole lot about the culture or history other than the whole dispute where it was broken into The Czech Republic and Slovakia, but it's more something I thought was interesting about me. Now my mom’s side of the family is extremely German, and my grandpa is one hundred percent German and proud of it. He is someone who is proud to be American, mainly because he worked for Chevy, so he forces us to only buy American-made cars and all that, but you could also say that my grandfather is the stereotypical German man. He is as stubborn as they come, he is always right, and will argue and yell until that becomes known. He flies his German flag next to his American one. Now some of my family say this next trait is because he is German and others just say it's him being an old man, but he is a complete pack rat; he keeps everything. Last year I found this skateboard in the garage that was his when he was a little kid. Now despite all the grief we give him he is also quite a good cook--of course of your German staples such as bratwurst. And if you didn’t think it could get more cliché he constantly buys this German beer, that I do admit is quite good, but also like triple the alcohol content of a normal beer. So overall I think I am a bit more in touch with my German side, because it is brought to my attention, and I am surrounded by it frequently. So far, this is how I view my own identity, but I’m sure with age and experience I will discover more about who I am and where I am supposed to go in life.
As any American citizen would know our government is capable of providing us with many privileges as well as it having many flaws. Many of which directly affect us, the people. Personally, one of my biggest problems with our government that has and is going to further affect me negatively is our health care system. Currently this is one thing that has been a large topic of debate but one of the most difficult things to change. Currently our health care is left in the hands of those who decide who is accepted and denied to be covered with health insurance. These individuals are cut-throat, and do not give a damn about us as the people. If you have a preexisting condition, forget it you won’t be covered as an individual; if you withhold, or forget even the tiniest bit of information such as a small case of bronchitis on their interrogation-style paperwork, they will come up with an excuse to not cover you. These companies are professional excuse makers so that they do not have to spend money on you. On my seventeenth birthday I had to do a three-day sleep study. I was tested and diagnosed with epilepsy. At the time medication cost and health care coverage had not crossed my mind a whole lot seeing as I was covered under my parents still. About a week later my dad opened my hospital bill, which was completely outrageous and sky-high. This puzzled me because both my parents work two or more jobs, and they both work within the medical field. I did not quite understand the justification to why my father, a family nurse practitioner, and my mother a surgical technician, could be stuck with such god-awful health insurance.
I investigated some more about healthcare in the United States, and learned a lot about it in my high school government class, and the end result was my complete disgust and fear. Why is it that if I had been born an hour north in Canada I would be covered for free no matter my illness? Or in other countries such as China or Japan, they pay small copays but the government acts as a cushion for the rest of the money. Or other solutions such as being a doctor is not an all-mighty profession like it is here; in Britain the doctors do not get paid nearly as well, but due to their lower pay rates, and some help from government funding they are able to treat their patients without making them go bankrupt. I have experience with a family friend who has bone and skin cancer. He has been in and out of hospitals fighting pneumonia in addition to his cancers; when he is well enough to leave the hospital he gets put in aftercare facilities. Recently, his health insurance said he is only covered at his aftercare place for a total of three more days. The hospital told him he was not sick enough to stay at the hospital for any longer, and he had no more time left covered at the aftercare place. He was stuck with no place to go. His family couldn’t afford to keep him in an aftercare place so now they rotate taking care of him the best they can, which is completely altering their lives because they all have jobs, families, school and lives. Is this what we should really be reduced down to? Is this really how the land of opportunity treats you? Lucky for me Obama recently passed a new law saying that kids can be covered under their parents' health insurance up to age twenty-six. It was previously age twenty-three, which would mean that as I am getting out of school, if I did not find a job that could cover me with health insurance, I would be paying insane amounts of money to keep myself healthy and safe. No college graduate has extra money to shell out. If that were to happen I would be paying a couple hundred dollars for my medication every month, this is a medication I cannot skip out on if I do not want to risk my health and safety.
Another thing that crossed my mind is that in the future I had considered the option of opening my own company for design, and if I were to do that I would not be covered by an employer, so that is another situation where I could be left hanging. In the news there were stories about the Buffalo Public School system, and how the teachers have extremely good health coverage, meaning their coverage is so good that they can get breast implants and that would be covered in their insurance. How is this justifiable by anyone? How can one person get an essentially free boob job while other people are out there dying because they cannot afford the cost of medication or treatment--they apparently cannot afford the cost of life? My question is, who has the right to decide this person can get some health insurance, and this person can’t, which, when boiled down is this person lives and this person dies? These companies are out for money and money only, whether it means costing people their lives or not.
Another thing related to this that is on the rise is new drugs. While on one hand it is great that with new technology are able to come up with all these new drugs to help with various health problems, it is having an extremely negative impact on our society. Firstly, these drugs are not cures, they are merely temporary aids. Secondly, most of these new drugs have more side effects than it’s worth. (For example, I still question it, my epilepsy medication has a side effect of twitching…. Explain that one to me, I twitch, which ends up being diagnosed as epilepsy, they give me medication for it and it is one of the side effects. The only reason I do not question it is because for now it works, and if I do not take it then there would be some serious issues.) Finally, because so many new drugs are coming out, they are all advertised in every way possible, being we live in a technology-based society now. And because all these advertisements are directed towards us the people, we automatically think, Oh, maybe that’s what is wrong with me, and then these people go tell their doctors I need to be put on this medication. I thought it was the doctor’s job to be diagnosing the patient? Not the patient coming in saying I need this drug. Not only is it the patients, though, because there are pharmaceutical representatives they come into doctor’s offices to promote all these new drugs, and the office agrees to promote certain drugs, which somewhat influences the doctor to prescribe those prescriptions. This is set up all wrong. What happened to patients seeing doctors, and if something was seriously wrong the doctor would prescribe what he or she thought would best help that individual patient? I also think that in this world of drug reps and advertising, they are forgetting that yes we are all people, but all people are different, especially when it comes to the body and health. Everyone reacts to different drugs differently, and every person has different conditions or problems that can change how things work.
I think that a lot of the negative things going on in health care are dominantly because of the insurance companies, but also the rise of technology and advertising. As a graphic design major I should not be saying this or thinking this way but in the sense of medication, it needs to be publicized to healthcare providers not the general population, because as a whole many of us are hypochondriacs. Also with new technology advancements we are making all of these drug advancements, which could be looked at as positive or negative. But what I really question is if we have all these drug breakthroughs and all these technology advancements are aiding us at getting further in medical technology why have we not gotten around to actual cures for diseases or cancers? Or is it that we have and our government or drug companies are keeping it from us, because they as a whole will be falling if people do not need to keep coming back for their short-term relief drugs?
I do not think I am the best source to discuss and analyze what the American Identity is. Honestly, I am not someone who always keeps up with current events in the news, or keeps up and fully understands politics and how our government works. I have some opinions here and there but am not completely sure of the true American identity. Based on my further knowledge from this course I have learned a few things, one of them being there is no one good way to identify the United States and its people. Like Jacobson talks about in his book, Whiteness of a Different Color, almost all of us today are not truly “American” or truly “white” because our families immigrated from all over the world, especially Europe. And even today you can go to different cities and notice the higher populations of certain ethnicities, because many Irish people immigrated and lived in the same place, and so did the Germans and Italians. For example, I am from around Buffalo, and it is widely known that there are tons of Polish people around here. In Buffalo many Polish holidays are celebrated such as Dyngus Day where we even have a parade. Just like Saint Patrick’s Day is widely celebrated throughout the United States, because there were so many Irish immigrants. So America is a mix of a whole mess of different people, which is unlike really anywhere else in the world.
However, when you get on the topic of immigration you have to consider all the controversy of the Mexican border and those immigrants still trying to come here. We are trying to do so much to keep Mexican immigrants out of our country because they are living here illegally and taking jobs that American’s could be filling. So the question is, do we loosen our grip on the border because they are immigrants much like all the European immigrants, and this is supposed to be a melting pot and the land of opportunity, but can our country afford to keep letting them be here? I think other factors that play into our identity is our freedom, our education that we can provide for children, and the fact that we are a society that now revolves around technology. But we are human--are we able to keep up with the rate that technology is advancing? So far it seems America is doing a relatively good job at keeping up with technology but will we fall behind, just like we are falling behind as a world superpower? I also question things like, now that India and China are creeping up behind us, and most likely going to surpass us will that change our identity? Will our country and citizenship become less desirable? Or do we think that because our country is built on a foundation of competitiveness we will fight to stay on top? These are things that this class, American Identities has made me consider about our country, how others view it, and what our identity is.
Chua, Amy. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. New York: Penguin, 2011. Print.
Jacobson, Matthew Frye. Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1998. Print.