16 December 2011

Small-Town Identification

Small-Town Identification

American Identities was the name of the class that appeared on the top of my freshman class schedule when I began my college experience. The only problem was that I had absolutely no idea what this class was going to be like. The American aspect of the course was easy enough to comprehend, yet I still was unaware of what the meaning of identity was. The rest of my classes, survey of calculus and geology for example, were pretty self-explanatory and I knew exactly what to expect. American Identities, on the other hand, was the only class where I had absolutely no idea what I would learn or what I would get out of this class.

 The first day of class was definitely shocking to say the least. Looking at the number of books that were assigned to this class was intimidating at first, but when everything was explained it seemed like I could take a lot out of this class. I believe that the main objective of this course is for me to really observe (despite how obvious it seems now) my identity as an American, and my self-reflection of how I view myself as an American.

            America is arguably one of the most diverse countries in the world today. Since the founding of the nation, America began, and continued to become more and more of a melting pot. Amongst all of our diversity, I ask myself, what does it mean to be an American? Furthermore, how do we view ourselves as Americans? In answering these questions, I am able to define my American identity.  I feel that the majority of our identity comes from our cultural background and the culture in which we were raised.

            My heritage is rather vague, in the sense that I don’t have the legitimate facts to know where my ancestors came from. From what I have been told, and from slight research on my last name, the name Hodge is of English descent. Also, my father’s mother’s side of the family has the maiden name Ryan, which is said to be Irish. Seeing that as the closest idea of my family heritage, it has not had a large impact on my life. It’s not just the history of my family; my true identity comes from how I was raised in my present family, which is true for the majority of Americans.

            I was born and raised in the middle of nowhere, small-town America. In the town, there are three thousand people, and since we were a college town, the university added another three thousand students, making a grand total of only six thousand. Living in a small town has definitely set me up for a unique lifestyle which helped shaped my identity. There is a wide variety of different settings in which I could have been raised in. There is a large urban setting such as a big city, the medium suburban area, the small rural setting, and everything in between. Living in a small town defiantly has its pros as well as its cons.

The high school that I attended was an experience in itself. The whole building was comprised of pre-K students up to 12th grade. At the end of my senior year, not only did I know everyone in my graduating class of sixty, but I also knew everyone from 6th grade to 12th grade by name, their personality. Most of the high school students in larger city or suburban schools don’t even know everyone in their whole grade, let alone the entire high school and middle school. This was good in the sense that it made my school like a family. I had known and seen these people almost every school day for my whole life and it created these most unique and incredible relationships amongst not only the students, but the faculty and staff, as well. If you wanted to join a sports team, you were on it. If you wanted to be in the school musical, you could do it. The list goes on and on about how you could do whatever you wanted and be whoever you wanted to be and still be accepted by everyone. This school setting really gave me the feeling of a family and it wasn’t until I got to college when I realized how important that was to me.

In high school, like most students, I was heavily involved in a lot of different clubs. One club that I had been in since freshman year was the Spanish club, and as a club, we hadn’t really ever done an event as a club that gave us a real taste of the Spanish culture. So during my sophomore year, we decided to start planning a trip that our school had never really done before. In collaboration with the French club, we decided to plan a trip to Europe. It would be a ten-day trip over spring break that would consist of going to Paris, France, and then to Barcelona, Spain. Given the type of trip this was, we realized that this would cost an extravagant amount of planning and money.

Starting my sophomore year, we began the fundraising, sorting out the details of what we would do. It was fundraiser, after fundraiser, after fundraiser, every single week. We over-ran our small town and school with endless car washes, bake sales, catalog orders, concession stands at every single sporting event, and anything else that we could possibly do to try and help cover the cost of forty French and Spanish students to go over-seas. As the weeks and year passed by, and after all of the fundraising, we had raised approximately twelve thousand dollars that would be distributed over the forty students and which cut down the cost by a great deal. 

            We were within a day or two from our departure date when a crisis had occurred. If you recall watching the news, the Iceland volcano had just erupted and the giant ash cloud was quickly covering the European sky. The news was filled with headlines such as, “The most planes grounded since 9/11!” along with school trips becoming postponed or canceled. The day had come, and our flight was still on. We board the bus to JFK and by the grace of god, make it on the plane, into the sky, and land at our layover in Madrid, Spain. When we arrive, we realize that our connection flight to Paris has been canceled. Not only that, but the French trains have gone on strike, and the line to get on a bus is at least a day’s wait, plus another day on the bus. Commence panic mode. We had to realize the fact that we were stuck in Madrid and make the best out of the situation. Our trip advisor from the tour company that was accompanying us on the trip was able to pull some strings and make accommodations for the night or two until we figured out our next step.

            When we took our first step up into the city after being down in the subway, we were absolutely blown away by everything. Just looking at the buildings, the streets, the cars, and the people, was a shock of how different it was from America. We would see these images in different movies or pictures, but seeing them in real life was amazing in itself. Every day was a different park, sight-seeing, an exotic and exciting restaurant for dinner. After the second day, we had gotten over the fact that Paris was no longer a possibility, but continued out scheduled trip to Carcassonne, France. It was this old, medieval city that we were able to tour around all day and get a taste of some of the French culture.

            Now that we were back on schedule, we took the train to Barcelona, where the trip became even more amazing then any of us could have ever thought. Since we had an actual plan of what to do, we were able to enjoy everything more then we already were. We saw the most famous sights in Barcelona such as the Magic Fountain, the Sagrada Familia, and the Monastery of Montserrat. Also, we took a bike tour around the city, stayed at a hotel in the middle of Las Ramblas, and ate the best food of my life. The list could go and on.

            The trip as a whole, to me, was a huge culture shock. It completely altered my view of Europeans, and the aspects of not only how I view them, but the way in which they view American culture, too. Coming into the trip, there was a swarm of prejudices that I had due to my exposure to the media and common American views of European culture. For example, I had always had the image of most Europeans being rude and having a stuck-up personality. In reality they are quite the opposite, and I came to find out that respect and family tradition is such a huge part of their culture. This trip was able to broaden my thoughts about foreign countries, as well as be more accepting toward their culture. Also, I feel that this trip would have not been possible if it weren’t for how I was brought up, and the school setting that I have lived in for my whole life.

The school setting was reflected into my home life as well. I was brought up in a privileged and loving family in which we had many traditions. We always tried to have family dinners along with a number of different things that made us close and connected. Due to this, I truly value the aspects of family and relationships. The way, and the setting, in which I was brought up in deeply influenced me in the way in which I identify myself.

When I think about my identity as an American, I am always brought back to how I was raised. I believe that the way a person is raised throughout their life is the greatest impact in how they are identified as well as how people identify them in their future. My personal identity is then shown through the closeness of my family, and the relationships that I had growing up. I loved my childhood and I truly believe that it is why my identity is the way it is today.

When I consider my childhood, I am brought back to a younger time that seriously had an impact on my life. It might not be something utterly groundbreaking, that instantly changed my entire view on life, but it was something large enough that was planted in my brain and grew to have a greater importance to me later in time. It happened to me at an age where I was too young to comprehend the magnitude of what had happened, but it became clearer as I became older.

It was the third grade. It is not seen as one of the most important years of schooling that every child goes through, but passing the second grade and moving on to a new chapter in the adventure of elementary school was a big change to me and most likely all of the other children as well. I meet my new teacher who was mildly scary at first with her crazy hair, but I settled in quickly with my friends. The first week passed with ease as we got into the normal routine. Then, the Tuesday of the next week started off different then all of the rest. I began at math time on the carpet in a circle first thing in the morning, answering all of the addition problems on my dry-erase board. The next thing that happened was out of the ordinary, to say the least. My teacher from second grade came into the class, crying, and asked to see our teacher out in the hall way. My heart instantly sank down into my stomach. When she came back into the room, all I can remember is her pale white face. It was as if the life had been drained out of her. Then the commotion started. She tried to explain what had happened but we remained confused as we were told that we were going to be sent home. It felt strange going home. I wanted to be excited to be out of school but I had the feeling that something had gone wrong.

As I arrived home, our family and friends were also at the house with their eyes glued to the television screen. I remember watching the news and seeing pictures that looked very familiar. It was New York City. The place that I had been just two weeks ago when my mom took us on the train. I remember her pointing to the giant skyscrapers, which stood far above all of the other buildings, and said that they were called the twin towers. As I looked at television, I saw the same images crashing down before my eyes. I remember seeing all of the smoke and dust that covered the people running down the street in terror. That is the exact image that comes to my mind when I think of terror attacks.

After seeing the same news story for months, I became more and more aware of what had happened and the seriousness of the attack.  Also, as the years went on, I began to realize why this had happened. The people who did this make it their job to go against the country that has raised me and shaped who I am. As America reacted to what had happened, I was amazed of how strong the country is and the force that we fight back with. It gave me the ability to take pride in my country and to stand behind it through the toughest times.

The following years, the name Osama Bin Laden rang through my mind as the man who hurt the county that I love. I wanted something to get done about this, and for there to be an end to the madness. The war on terror has been an ongoing struggle for the past ten years now, and about four months ago was the first time that America could finally take a sigh of relief. The man that was behind the 9/11 terror attacks was killed by the Navy SEAL elite team 6, one of the most specialized teams in the entire country. That was the day that I had the most pride for America in my lifetime. While I wanted to be joyful for what had happened, I recalled a famous quote by Jessica Dovey, and followed by Martin Luther King Jr., which says, “I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy.” So as I look back at the attack, and everything that unfolded as a result, I have an increase in pride in my country.

When you look at the childhood that current college students have been raised in, it is astounding to see how much has happened, and the large amount of crises that have occurred within the past two decades compared to the last century. The majority of crises have been due to 9/11. The responses that we had during the Bush era such as the Patriot Act, as well as a huge shift of focus to the war on terror, fueling our troops to go into Afghanistan and fight against the Al Qaeda. America has faced another massive crisis, not in terms of war, but yet a crisis that took a huge blow to the economy. It is considered to be the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. It resulted in the bailout of banks by the government, the collapse of large financial institutions, and huge declines in stock markets around the world. The housing market had also suffered, resulting in numerous evictions and foreclosures. It contributed to an increase in unemployment, which lead to declines in consumer wealth and economic activity estimated in the trillions of U.S. dollars. In a nutshell, everything led to a severe global economic recession in 2008 and 2009.

The actions and series of events that have unfolded in the past ten years are ones that brought pain to the country. Yet, when we see past the destruction that has occurred, we can observe how we come out a stronger and more powerful nation. That is what fuels my pride for my country and shapes my identity as a citizen.

            If we ultimately define our identity as Americans, we can begin to observe our beliefs and principals on subjects that pertain to our country today. Americans continue to differ among hundreds of different topics and beliefs that pertain to the political as well as the social world. The identity of each person is a key factor in determining what they believe in.

            After looking at my identity, it wasn’t like a giant gust of wind and a shining light from the sky came down and showed me enlightenment along with the meaning of life. I just looked at what has made me who I am today. I take pride in how I was raised, along with my family values and beliefs. Due to this, I followed in my father’s footsteps, took what he truly believed in, and applied it to my own life. My father is a Republican with strong support behind it. When I was younger, I always was watching the news with my dad. From the local news, to the world nightly news, my dad and I would be watching either ABC or Fox News. I would be constantly asking questions, and he would explain them in the best way possible.

As I continued to grow up, and ask questions about the country and politics, I took what he said to heart and began to truly believe in them as well. As a result, I have conservative views, and I build my idea of how we should define the American identity as such.

            The American identity should not be viewed as a stereotype of what America is like; rather it should exemplify the strong suits. I believe that the stronger aspects that make up the country are those that give us our pride to be Americans. For example, the freedoms that we are given is one of the most valued aspects of American culture. Most people take for granted the amount of freedom that we are given, compared to the majority of other countries in the world. The freedom to believe in whatever religious being that we desire, and the freedoms to say what we want, are two of many freedoms that people from other countries would literally die to have.

Overall as a country, we are given a great deal of luxuries which we do not realize. There also comes a point where we must look at how much we are given, and determine if it actually necessary. When the nation was founded, it was seen to have the idea that Americans must have the desire inside of them to get whatever they want in life. It was part of the American dream that you could be whoever you wanted to be and achieve anything if you set your mind to it. But something happened over time. As Americans, we became lazy and wondered why we weren’t receiving things that we wanted. So instead of becoming motivated, we became dependent on the government to supply us with these things in life. Nowhere in the Constitution does it state that the government is there to provide you with all of these programs and benefits, but we ask for them anyway. This is how the government struggles to pay for these things without having to raise taxes, and we fall into debt. It is the attitude of the American people that eats away at the government and slowly brings it down.

I’m not stating that the government shouldn’t give anything to the people, because there are a number of things that government needs to provide for the United States to maintain stability. But there are things that the government doesn’t need to provide that we can do without. This would lower the taxes for the people, and give them more money to invest into the economy. Granted there are flaws in this way of thinking, but it is possible to take more steps in this direction. If we as Americans can get back to the “can-do” attitude that our founding fathers set in place for us, then we would be able to rise to come back to being the most prosperous nation in the world.

My identity has been shaped not only my family and the way I was raised:  the majority of it was a direct result of the greatness of the nation, and the history that continues to shape not only the future of America, but my overall American identity as well. 

On final reflection of the course, it has really given me one of the greatest opportunities that I could have gotten. I was able to look at my beliefs as an American and think about what may or may not have shaped them throughout my life. Through this course, I feel more set in what I believe in with my community, my country, and my personal American identity.

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