To be American is to live in uneven quid pro quo with the American collective, surrendering freedoms to benefit (from) those the many sponsor. Many Americans’ (the underprivileged’) not enjoying minimally comfortable lifestyles is an “embarrassment” for this centuries-old democratic-republican undertaking, indicating one significant goal to which Americans must strive: equality, both physically and otherwise , and parity, extending to real welfare. Today, being American is celebrating ideals while living in a reality that contradicts them at many turns.
I am American both qualitatively and substantively. ‘Denotationally’ an American (indefinite nominal), I satisfy requirements as member of nation, by birth (which leads to ensnaring taxation!), involved by/in sweat and blood, body absorbing into (national) body. I am multiply ‘American’, one distinguished from people of other nations, identity is founded in difference, geographical, cultural, socio-economical, ‘American’ by how I live: accent, dress, even body language(s). Types span over three hundred millions, so ‘American’ is too vast to enumerate summarily, classifications failing easy overarching kinds. I turn to practical membership, participation.
To be American (natural, naturalized) is to be of the union, helping that union grow (in business, politics, entertainment, etc.), thriving in a macaronic nation-state born in blood, inching towards peaceable unity to realize dreams. To be American is to believe in freedoms endowed by hard work and participation in the democratic project. To be American is to hold citizenship (legal ratification of belonging), linked materially with other citizens (by birth, either on American land or to American parents), contributing to the economy, (happily, uncomfortably?) enmeshed with countrymen.
‘America’ was named by a German mapmaker for a pioneer explorer, Amerigo Vespucci (Sabato). Along with the naming of Hispaniola, christening the New World ‘America’ was a violent reframing of a place occupied for many centuries by others.
To be American is to live within paradox, embracing and celebrating freedom(s) while millions of Native Americans live decimated, impoverished, leaving aside legacies of slavery and atom bombs. Beginning with the Caribbean (“Hispaniola”), where by the early 16th century “it [was] heartbreaking to see these naked Indians, heartbreaking for anyone with a vestige of piety.” (Las Casas 41), it is clear that “tyranny exercised by the Spaniards against the Indians…” (De Las Casas) was brutal, with countless Native Americans slain and taken prisoner (De Las Casas 81; Bradford 125) This monstrously dehumanizing gaze commits calculating diminution of native American peoples as not only other, unwelcome company in their own home, as true “Indians” who really live 8,000 miles away from the Americas just south of Asia, but also in the way in which white invaders created them, as “savages” (Bradford 136).
America (north and south, northerners having, however, coöpted and/or solely come to be referred to as unqualified Americans) is a state of much difference, internal conflict (as with almost-total snuffing out of the lands’ original inhabitants; those who remain live only in the margins). Otherizing, with its brutal gaze, began when Europeans stepped on to American soil, where most felt “ it pleased God to vanquish [their] enemies and give them providence.” (Bradford 137) There are those who claim that even today the American government perpetrates such crimes.
But I am certainly (an) American. Not only am I born in difference, have inherited difference, but I also actively live in it. It is exceeding difficult to find two Americans statistically the same; immigration slowly but surely transmutes the nation state’s alchemy, warp and woof now multiply threaded. I am part of the difference and change in America about which Bradford writes.