I was in Mae Sot, Thailand, with geckos scampering up the wall, watching American kids dance out their sexual fantasies on MTV. Then I turned to CNN International and heard expressionless news anchors speak of dangers to the planet and talk in grim tones about all things American. This, along with Madonna, Brittany and Angelina is what the people of the world see as America. But what exactly is the America they should see?
Back home people cue up for Starbucks, grasping not only the coffee cups but the status they represent. I join long drive-thru lines at McDonald’s with fellow citizens, eager to enjoy the fattening faire. I stand in line for movies, popcorn and, yes, even at the Apple Computer Store eagerly examining the latest gadgets. And I ask myself … is this what it means to be an American?
I see commercials on TV featuring people with faces and colors of every kind saying, “I’m an American.” And I know they are, but what is that … exactly?
A young woman raised in the American “heartland,” educated in the finest schools, articulate, intelligent recently mused aloud that in this multicultural world in which we live, she wasn’t exactly sure just what American culture is.
Maybe things have become so blurred there is no easy answer to this, but I rise to the challenge to put words to what it certainly used to mean—and what it still does, if only we were free to celebrate it as we once did and pass it on to kids in school and immigrants eagerly entering our borders.
To be an American is to work hard, to toil by the sweat of your brow, the more sweat, the more gain; to be free of harsh overlords; to be responsible for your own life and family; to fail or succeed without unfair impediments or emasculating help. If some Americans have forgotten this concept, they need only look to our Vietnamese, Korean, Mexican or Indian immigrants to see the American “dream,” devoid of class distinction, enable people who work hard to succeed.
To be an American is to be honest, to play by the rules, to respect law. It is to love family and—in spite of the divorce rate—to aspire to love for a lifetime the partner of your youth. It is to be good parents to children and good children to parents. It is to keep commitments and play hard; to keep a sense of humor about ourselves; to help others; to worship freely; to raucously engage in open debate on politics, religion and all else; to love sports and music and the arts; to pay our bills and mow our grass; to be independent, self-sufficient, but able to help those less fortunate.