Thursday, August 25, 2016

American Identity Abroad

What does it mean to be an American, meaning one from the United States of America? I asked myself after choosing to visit Turkey a month after the recent military coup, despite significant discouragement from American friends and family. Does being an American mean to look White and speak English? Absolutely not, but that's what many from other countries often automatically depict as an American.  As one who fits that stereotype, I try my best to recognize the multiple privileges that gives me.

Being an American generally means one is free from the fears of living in an unstable democracy where terrorist attacks happen frequently or the democratically elected government can be threatened by a military coup. While our political parties may be extremely polarized, these do not result in violence between the parties. When regime changes occur, they are peaceful transitions of power. Americans live in a safety and stability unrivaled by other countries, but at the same time, we normalize mass shootings.

Being an American means you have virtually unlimited access to any consumer product you want, including clothing and electronic items that cost many times more if you buy them outside the States. But being an American can also mean you live in a workaholic culture, with limited vacation time and a societal expectation to keep advancing in one's career and economic status. However, with this can come with a pride in one's work as well as a great exchange rate when traveling abroad.  Americans may be more comfortable with massive amounts of personal debt rather than higher taxes.

Some Americans are afraid to visit other countries, but in essence, being an American can mean playing the game in easy mode. We are warranted extraordinary privileges that many citizens of other countries don't experience. At the same time, many Americans traveling abroad will identify as Canadians, to deflect the hatred often associated with our country. When asked where I'm from, I proudly say California. It does not deny my identity as an American, but brands me with what I believe is the best state in our Union, largely responsible for the cultural, political, economic, and technological advancement of our nation.

The United States is my homeland, the nation I choose to live in and hopefully raise children in someday.  I am beyond grateful to have been born and raised in the United States. Above all, I love my country because the American Dream, meaning the ability to actualize one's goals and aspirations, regardless of what socioeconomic status you start at, is more feasible than any other country. All human beings, regardless of where they are born or live, deserve such human rights.

Of course, this American Dream is much more difficult for some communities than others. A truly level playing field does not yet exist, and multiple forms of discrimination exist based on race, class, gender, sexual orientation, religion, level of ability, etc. I want to keep improving my country by encouraging the advancement of leaders from underrepresented communities in all sectors of society. Diversity leads to prosperity. I want my country to be a better ally rather than a dominant bully in how it treats other countries.  While I often intentionally and unintentionally perform the stereotype of a loud, proud, overly friendly American, I also want to be the citizen of a nation that has a better reputation globally.

Empires don't last forever, but what does last is the historic legacy of supremacy and domination. For example, even today, in some places, mothers threaten their children to behave by using racist phrases such as "I'll feed you to the Turks!" If the US loses its current role as superpower, what will others negatively say about us in the future?  What could it mean to be an extremely wealthy and democratized nation that is appreciated, well-liked, and respected by other countries?

I'm very interested in learning how you articulate what it means to be a human from your country or national identity. Please share your ideas. Thank you!

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