Apparently there is something different, something distinctive, about Americans that sets us apart from denizens of other nations. Something makes an American stand out in a crowd. Whatever it is, it's noticeable enough that it's a frequent topic of conversation. That's especially true, whenever we encounter individuals who hail from far off lands.
In such situations the same question arises. The actual wording can vary, but the essence of the inquiry is identical.
Here are two of the most common forms:
What does being an American mean?
What does being an American feel like?
Invariably, the questioners want to experience 'being an American' for themselves. I get that, and I'll try my best to address the 'feels like' aspect.
For me, being an American means choking up, each time I watch Lou Gehrig's farewell speech. Why? Ravaged by a disease so horrendous that they gave it his name, this son of immigrant parents stood there in Yankee Stadium declaring "I'm the luckiest man in the world." That's an AMERICAN.
For me, being an American means that special thrill I get when I hear the Gipper say "Mister Gorbachev! Tear down this wall."
For me, being an American means the sense of awe that overwhelms me, when I read Jefferson's soaring prose:
-We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,--That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
[Declaration of Independence]
For me, being an American is savoring the sweet crack of a bat made of ash hitting a baseball.
Obviously 'what being an American means', and 'what being an American feels like', are highly subjective. It has more than 319 million answers, a different answer for each American.
When we cut to the chase, the question evolves and gets to the heart of the matter:
What is an American?
What is an American? The answer to that depends on whom you ask:
Iran's ruling mullahs, ISIS, al Qaeda, the Islamic Brotherhood, and all their Jihadikaze home boys will tell you that an American is evil personified. They will insist that an American is a demon who inhabits the Great Satan, their term for the United States of America.
Messiah Al's Greeniac disciples will tell you that an American is a carbon-spewing, energy swilling junkie who is callously destroying Mother Earth.
Reverend Al and all his race rioting retards will insist being American is a code word for a cross burning racist whose wardrobe has expanded beyond the iconic sheet and hood. They will say that being American means a singleminded determination to re-enslave the properly-hyphenated in general, and the Melanin-Enriched in particular.
Emperor Barry the Chummer and his Marxist cohorts will tell you that an American is a capitalist exploiter who is enslaving the underclasses.
What is an American? What indeed. Before we can get a meaningful answer to that question, we need to seek the answer to another, equally important, question: What is it that defines a national identity like "Italian", "Canadian", or "American"?
Ethnicity: Many national identities (Japanese, for example) are based, in part, on a shared ethnicity. That's a viable standard, but it won't work for America, because Americans can, and do, come from any/every ethic group. There is no ethnic/racial litmus test that will exclude someone from becoming an American.
Culture: Another common criteria for a national identity is a shared culture that stretches back centuries or millennia. That won't work for Americans who have a propensity for remaking their culture on the fly. Americans, routinely, borrow elements from other cultures, especially when it comes to foods, fashions and terminology.
Geography: Being an American isn't tied to a certain portion of the North American continent. It's not the land itself that makes someone an American. An American is an American, no matter where he, she, heshe or it lives.
Longevity: In some instances, a national identity is based on how long a group of people have lived in a certain place. Excluding Siberian-Americans, those most commonly identified as Americans have only been living in the New World for about 400 years.
Obviously the usual traits that define a national identity don't seem to apply to 'American'. The 'American' identity isn't limited by ethnicity, culture, geography and longevity. We need to dig deeper for the answer to this question.
What is an American? It's not the vile things that our critics claim and it defies the conventional criteria for a national identity. The essence of being an American was shaped by this land, but not defined by it. The essence of being an American was, and is, enriched by the many ethnicities that inhabit this land conceived in liberty but isn't limited to any one of them. The essence of being an American is demonstrated by, not defined by, American culture.
What is an American? Generous to a fault, an American is the best, truest friend you'll ever have. But, when provoked, an American is also your worst nightmare. You don't want to go there.
An American is someone who welcomes a challenge. When someone says "It's never been done", an American will respond, "Yet". When someone says "It can't be done", an American will respond, "We'll see."
An American seeks "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" without Nanny State interference. Welcoming the knowledge gained by making mistakes, failing, an American will tell the Nanny State, "Take your social safety net and stick it!"
What is an American? It's a individual who accepts full responsibility for their own action. It means taking credit for the good and accepting blame for the bad and the ugly in their life.
The traits that define an American aren't anything tangible. Being an American is an attitude, a singular mindset, that we carry inside each and every one of us who are proud to state "I'm an American". The central fact about Americans is that their national identity was created, from scratch, by those rugged individuals who made their home here.
We are, as the open borders crowd insists, a nation of immigrants. Each new wave of immigration has put its own mark on the American character, redefining what it means to be an American, in the process.
The first immigration wave to the New World was undertaken at least 10,000 years ago, in the waning days of an ice age. Leaving the world they knew, those original immigrants - those individuals I call Siberian-Americans - gazed upon the land bridge spanning the Bering Straits and boldly began a long journey into the unknown. They were the embodiment of that classic human trait that makes us seek the answer to the question: "I wonder where that leads?" They started out on a dangerous journey into unknown territory to face its dangers head-on. Why did they risk it? Because it's a primal human impulse to find out what's around that next turn in the road, beyond that hill on the horizon, or across that dangerous stretch of ocean.
The next wave of immigration began, when determined individuals in Europe started out on their own dangerous journey in boats that were barely up to the challenge of a notoriously unforgiving stretch of ocean. They landed on the new world and began to populate its eastern shores with men and women who dared to dream of a bold, untried form of government. Many of those who started that journey never lived to finish it. Some of those who completed that dangerous passage, didn't survive the rigors that the New World imposed on them. Those who emerged from that trial by an unflinching Mother Nature laid the ground work for that singular individual we call an American.
Americans are, by nature, innovators, risk takers. An American is an individual who wants to test, his, her, hisher or its personal limits. An American wants to see how far, how high, their intellect, talent and hard work can take them. One utterly American element of this is the businesses that began their lives in a family garage. For example, Apple, now an 8,000 pound technology gorilla, began its life in the Jobs' family garage.
That seems to explain why people around the world spend years jumping through bureaucratic hoops, and surmounting countless hurdles for the right to become an American. Many of them understand what it really means to be an American better than most native born Americans. In many cases, these newest Americans put us to shame with their classically American work ethic, their determination to build their lives from scratch, and make their mark on the world, without Nanny State assistance.
There's a lot we can learn from these legal immigrants who work so hard to enter America through the front door. They have much more to offer than exotic foods, fashion trends and new terminology. They are a badly needed lesson, a warning, that we are allowing the Nanny State and its damn social safety net to strip all the real meaning from American's national identity.
It's my considered opinion that too many native born Americans have lost their way. The Nanny State's siren song of artificial rights and safety nets that 'spare' us the essential, character building, life lessons is destroying us. Those life lessons, those blows, that the Nanny State absorbs, are vital when it comes to forging the American character. We have become fat, lazy and much too complacent, while the Nanny State chips away at our birthright of inalienable individual liberty. We are, in short, our own worst enemy when it comes to the erosion of that rugged individualism that is the solid foundation which gives being an American its unique meaning.
We've lost our way, but the situation isn't hopeless. Many - perhaps most - of America's legal, front door, immigrants harken back to the essence of what it means to be an American. They don't want a handout. They don't want a safety net. All they want is their chance to become that self-reliant, that self-made individual, an American.
What is an American? If you still don't know, ask any legal immigrant. Ask any of those determined individuals who walk that long, torturous, path that ends at a ceremony where they are sworn in as a certified American. Ask those eager immigrants who dip their toe into those teeming capitalist waters with that donut shop, convenience store, dry cleaners or gas station. Ask that endlessly patient individual who is on that years long waiting list, ready, willing and eager for permission to realize that dream of becoming an American.
What is an American?
An American is a dreamer.
An American is an innovator.
Most of all, an American is an arrogant, swaggering pain in the butt, who dares to tell the rest of the world: "I'm living proof that there's a better way."