General Question

chad's avatar

How would you define "What is an American?"?

Asked by chad (694points) May 1st, 2008

Students in my history class had a broad and wide range of definitions, and so I was just wondering what you’re views are too. It would be cool to hear from as many people as possible, both in and outside of the US.

Observing members: 0 Composing members: 0

20 Answers

wildflower's avatar

To me, ‘an American’ is someone who is blessed and cursed to live in a country so vast and varied that it becomes its own world.
You have everything you could ever need within your country – including a variety of cultures, nature and vast amounts of space. This is an upside and a downside as it doesn’t encourage you to look beyond your own borders.

nayeight's avatar

well I always thought an american was someone who was born in america….but I guess that’s just me.

wildflower's avatar

You just reminded me of one other thing that sticks out in my mind when I think of an American….....why do so many of them consider themselves Italian, Spanish, Swedish, Dutch, Irish, Chinese, Korean, etc. when they were in fact born and raised in America – or USA…..I almost think it’s sad that they don’t take ownership of their nationality (except when the topic turns to patriotism).

soundedfury's avatar

There is a crucial difference between your nationality and your ancestry, wildflower. I’m American, but I’m also Irish. There is nothing wrong with taking pride in your nationality and your background, simultaneously.

wildflower's avatar

I can appreciate pride in your heritage (I’m proud to have viking heritage, from several countries, but I only describe myself as Faroese), but I find it makes it harder to identify what ‘American’ is when hardly anyone says ‘I’m American’. Most – that I’ve met – describe themselves as ‘Irish’ (for example).
Then again, it may be a way of connecting with someone like myself, by pointing out a link to a culture close to me.

soundedfury's avatar

Being part of another sub-culture or heritage is probably the single biggest thing that defines being American to me. Everyone came from somewhere else, everyone takes pride in their particularly subgroup. We’re far too large and diverse to be able to have one homogenous identity.

Besides, if you’re in the states and have a non-foreign accent and someone asks you to describe yourself, American is kind of implied.

wildflower's avatar

That’s a very fair point. And kind of goes with my initial response, that the country is so vast that it’s subdivided – almost a world of nationalities/cultures within one.

Do you think that sense of sub-culture unites or divides Americans as fellow countrymen?

soundedfury's avatar

I don’t think that the sub-cultures influence it one way or another. What unites us most is an ideology, a belief that, given a level playing field, we can all rise or fall on our own merit. I think what unites us is that we largely believe that individuals should matter, that choice matters. Even the most cynical people in the U.S. believe it, as their cynicism itself proves.

wildflower's avatar

That’s exactly what I mean. It is a world within a nation because everyone has their own background, culture, interest, purpose….there’s no national identity, apart from buying in to the American dream (which can be different for everyone) or the every-man-for-himself mindset.

I think that’s often what causes non-Americans frustrations. If Americans do not unite in a cultural or national identity, it is hard to accept that America (USA) as a nation has united views and interests (on a global scale).

Don’t get me wrong. I’m by no means one of the so-called ‘anti-Americans’. I find many aspects of your culture(s) very attractive. This is just how I see it.

cooksalot's avatar

I think being American is not only being born in America, but also appreciating all the freedoms we do have. Such as the right to free speech, and personal opinions. I have had to impress this on my nephew who feels that he has to express himself by being not only anti-government but also the verge of being anti-American. I feel that his exercising the right to free speech and free thought makes him more American than he wants to be. (Poor kid.)

xxporkxsodaxx's avatar

I believe that it would all be opinionated on who your asking, like if you ask the French what is an American, they might say annoying little tourists, if you ask an illegal Mexican they might say some of the nicest people to give me a job with no green card. Also it is a vague(spl?) description and would be hard to answer dead on since you are describing what the general perception of the world on Americans.

thegodfather's avatar

American = citizen of the United States

Native American = member of a tribe or nation which initially occupied the American continent before getting run off of it

Latin American = citizen of Spanish-speaking countries south of the U.S. of primarily hispanic demography

These are the primary national titles attached to “American.” All others are demographic in nature (e.g., African-American, Asian-American, etc.)

buster's avatar

Macho Man Randy Savage. Thats American.

scamp's avatar

@ buster Hacksaw Jim Dugan…USA!!

gorillapaws's avatar

Of course you have to agree with the literal definitions that people have done a good job of articulating, but I think the more interesting aspect of the question is more to do with what is the core essence that makes up the american identity. I think cooksalot’s answer is right on target with this one. The american identity is mostly based around the ideas expressed in our constitution and bill of rights, basically the philosophies set out by the founders of our nation, who themselves were greatly influenced by philosophers of the enlightenment—things like valuing the individual, guaranteeing personal freedoms, respecting people’s differing beliefs etc.

And to address the heritage over nationality thing, I think that a lot of that comes from our culture’s celebration of diversity. In other words when someone says “I’m Irish” it’s not because they are trying to distance themselves from their American identity (at least I don’t think this is the case), I think it’s more to do with the fact that we assume you’re American and we’re really wanting to know more about your heritage than your nation of citizenship.

breanne's avatar

I always thought it was presumptuous to say that only US citizens are “the” Americans, since “The Americas” is a pretty broad term encompassing North and South America.

However, this being said, I think generally speaking in terms of nationality, “American” is thought to be a citizen of the United States, or one seeking permanent residency in the US. I’ve always thought this term was troubling, since I have a Colombian friend who was asked how long his family has been “in America” by a man from Spain. Latin America was not distinguished in the question. So in terms of culture, “American” is a troubling concept due to melting pot dynamics, as a solid ethnic identity is not assumed, as is the case in Asia or many European countries.

jacksonRice's avatar

anyone who self-identifies as american or feels american is american.

probably a lot of people who don’t are also american. so it goes.

cinderflubbin's avatar

I think being American means that you live/have lived within these borders and agree with what this country is based on.

InEv3's avatar

There are numerous post’s here I agree with, I’d have to say personally I view “What is an American” as an individual whose self-identity construct’s itself around being affiliated to a culture(s) that is of an American nature, or believe’s it to be so. Therefore a person who sustain’s those belief’s can identify themselve’s as being “an American”. Everyone has different view’s and belief’s but as long as they feel it is american and live that way of life accordingly I feel they are accountable as “being an American”.=^.^=

Strauss's avatar

@wildflower I very much agree with your definition in your first post, especially the part about it being as much a blessing as a curse. I’ve had the privilege to experience many many subcultures of the US, and I love them all. I was brought up to love and be proud of my ancestors’ heritage and the additions of many cultures to the melting pot. I think the reason there are so many “hyphenated”-Americans is that the US is relatively young, compared to other nations, and the “American culture”, whatever that is, is still developing.

Answer this question




to answer.

This question is in the General Section. Responses must be helpful and on-topic.

Your answer will be saved while you login or join.

Have a question? Ask Fluther!

What do you know more about?
Knowledge Networking @ Fluther