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What Does It Mean To Be An American

Updated on January 28, 2020
jackclee lm profile image

Jack is a volunteer at the CCNY Archives. Before retiring, he worked at IBM for over 28 years. His articles have over 120,000 views.


America is a young country by world standards. Egypt, Greece, Italy, Iraq and China and many others have been around for thousands of years. America is only 240 years old. Yet, we have achieved greatness beyond all expectations. We are young and unique compared to all other nations past and present. The question is - What does it mean to be an American?

- Jan. 2020


There are many ways to approach this question. We can look at it from a culture perspective or a historical perspective or a modern perspective. The most relevant for me personally is how we are today in 2020. What does it mean for a person living in America in 2020. In many ways, the world is shrinking. This is the result of growing technology and communications and high speed travel. Anyone can watch TV or access the web or be on a call or travel to another country or continent within hours.

People are more mobile. We come in contact with many people from all cultures and nations on a daily basis. How we perceive others and how they perceive us does matter.

What does it mean for me to be an American living in America in 2020?

World View...

The answer depends on your world view. There are two very distinct world views or camps. On the one hand, there are people who think we are just one nation among many around the globe. A part of the family of nations that comes under the umbrella of the UN. On the other hand, there are people who believes America is unique and exceptional in the world of nations. Depending on which world view, our understanding of our place in the history books may differ significantly.

One glaring example is our military capabilities. we are a super power and as such we are by de-facto the policeman of the world. How we exercise our power around the world to maintain peace and stability is under scrutiny. If you are from the first camp, you might think America is a bully and we tends to go it alone and cause disturbances more than we settle local conflicts. However, if you are from the second camp, you might feel we are trying to make the best of the situations. We are a virtuous nation and we try to help whenever we can. We spent our treasures and blood overseas defending freedom.

The two-views are clearly on display first in president Obama's administration from 2009-2016, and now with Trump from 2017 to the present.

It Is Not About Patriotism

Some would like to frame this differences as patriotism. I do not buy into this analysis. My own opinion is that both sides are patriots in their own way. They just have a different approach on dealing with various foreign countries both friends and adversaries. They also differ in how they view our own country and its people.

For example, if you are of the opinion that we are just like any other nation, then of course you would have no qualms about people wanting to immigrate here or there. We are all equal and they have just as much a right to be here as we do...whether they come here legally through our INS process or illegally, by crossing our borders or overstaying a visitor's VISA.

However, if you are of the opinion that we are special, and we have a good country here that we have worked hard to build over the years and that our citizens paid a price both in sweat and blood in defending it in times or war or economic strife, then it is natural for us to want to control our borders and defend our sovereignty. We also expect people who want to immigrate here legally to take the time to study our system and our language and our culture and make a decision to become an American citizen. This assimilation process takes time and it may not be for everyone which is perfectly fine. We have a separate class of people with PR (Permanent Residence) status. They have all the rights and priviledges as a citizen but just not the right to vote in elections.

Here is what I do believe about people from the other camp. They are either misguided or miss-informed. They like to point to our faults which there are many and I readily admit. However, all things considered, we are miles above the other nations. When I ask them which other countries would they consider superior? I get dead silence. Yet, they refuse to admit the obvious.

My View on Being an American

I am a first generation immigrant who came here at the age of 10 from the island of Taiwan. I became a naturalized citizen at the age of 16. I consider myself to be an American. I went to school here, I worked a whole career, and raised a family with 3 grown kids now. They are American citizens and consider themselves fully integrated to this society.

I am grateful to my parents for taking the chance of moving here when they did. It changed the course of history for me and my brother for the better.

I am grateful to this country who became our adopted country. They welcomed us with open arms and gave us the opportunity to work hard and succeed.

I am grateful for the free public education that I received including the higher education of a college degree from CCNY. It was one of the free higher education program in existence which is no longer free.

I am grateful for being a part of a country that stands for freedom and justice and the rule of law and freedom of religion...

I am most grateful for living in a country that has protected the environment such that I have clean water to drink and clean air to breathe and all kinds of other conveniences. Having traveled around the world both for work and for leisure, I have seen and experienced many other countries and cultures. It is not always the case as we have it here. We are truly blessed.

I am also a student of history. I have read and learned that past civilizations have come and gone. I want to preserve our great country by educating our posterity so that we can keep it, improve it, and spread the ideals around to other countries.

It is why I try to tell my story and share my thoughts and debate others who might be of the other camp. I truly believe that the uniqueness of our country is the combination of our system of government, our Constitution, and the people who created it and passed it on to the following generations, is the reason for our success.

I also believe as some of the Founding Fathers believed that our country was created with Divine Providence.

I belief in our Flag as a symbol of our belief. I sing our National Anthem with pride. And I say the pledge and mean it when the occasion arises.

I try to do my civic duty by showing up as jurors, and educate others about our civics and teach my kids and grand nieces and nephews about our unique government.

I volunteer my time at my local Archives to give back.

I take the oath of office seriously when I served on the Landmark Commission board at my town.

I, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United Statesagainst all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”

The Two Views of American Exceptionalism - Obama and Scalia

Justice Scalia

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Jack Lee


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    • jackclee lm profile imageAUTHOR

      Jack Lee 

      15 months ago from Yorktown NY

      T, I gave your comments a lot of thought and I still wish to keep the same wording. This article was inspired by my discussion with some of my colleagues. We disagree in our politics...but I respect their opinions.

      I do not want to make this one of those I am right you are wrong type of arguments. It solves nothing and just keep the status quo.

      What I tried to do is explain the two camps, making it clear which one I subscribe and also bringing into the discussion of "world views". They might not agree with my contention but at least they would not be turned off by it. In fact, I see much validity in my views.

      Those that are globalists, are also Americans. They are just miss-guided thinking that the world would be better off if America was not so dominant. This view assumes the rest of the world are all nice by benevolent leaders. This is clearly not the case.

    • tsadjatko profile image

      The Logician 

      15 months ago from now on

      Jack, I think saying that

      what it means to be an American depends on your world view

      isn’t conveying that people in America can have different views and even opposite views and yet still be patriotic or has anything to do with the right to dissent.

      World views can be socialism, communism, radical religions, terrorists, ideologies that have no clue what it really means to be an American. A Godless worldview can not begin to understand what it means to be a citizen of the country whose motto is “In God We Trust.” I mean doesn’t that make sense to you?

      The last thing “what it means to be an American” depends on is your World View!

      The first thing that understanding what it means to be an American, a real American, depends on is faith in God and the fact that freedom and all our rights are from him and not government.

      You can dismiss my criticism all you want by saying what you meant but words have meaning and when you say being an American depends on your world view either you are confused or you just made a poor choice of words. I think the latter so why don’t you correct it? Maybe ego is the reason?

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      15 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      I got that idea but I wanted to stress that we are oldest continuing Democratic Nation in the world currently. I am very proud of that. And to me that is part of being an American.

      I often wonder if in fact America was kind of an empire at one time.

      No matter what this is a great piece of writing Jack

    • jackclee lm profile imageAUTHOR

      Jack Lee 

      15 months ago from Yorktown NY

      I was thinking more of the old empires, Egypt going back to the Pharaohs and China to the various Dynasties...Iraq was the old Sumerians...

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      15 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Egypt was 1922, Italy 1861, China 1912, Greece 1830, Iraq 1932.

      I do believe that the USA is the eldest among democracies.

      My Immiigrant wife and therefor 1st gen from an immigrant hold most of your thoughts. Boy of Boy are we glad to be Americans.

    • jackclee lm profile imageAUTHOR

      Jack Lee 

      15 months ago from Yorktown NY

      T, I see your point but what I was trying to convey is that people in America can have different views and even opposite views and yet still be patriotic. That is the unique beauty of America. We are made up of different backgrounds and different parties with different agenda...and I don't want to call names and labels...

      Our Constitution guarantees the right to dissent.

    • tsadjatko profile image

      The Logician 

      15 months ago from now on

      Jack, that is so true, they don’t have a better alternative!

      Anyone can compare America to every other country in existence and see there is no better alternative. In many countries you could be punished for even saying that!

      However, I don’t think the answer to “what does it mean to be an American” depends on your world view.

      For example, if my world view is that America is the great Satan, what it means to be an American isn’t valid in any stretch of the imagination. This is a distinction you fail to make.

      "To become an American is a process which resembles a conversion. It is not so much a new country that one adopts as a new creed."~ RAOUL DE ROUSSY DE SALES

      No matter what your “world view” nothing is more assuredly unAmerican than to entertain any doubt concerning the fact that somehow or other this country will come out all right.


    • jackclee lm profile imageAUTHOR

      Jack Lee 

      15 months ago from Yorktown NY

      Raymond, Thanks for reading my piece. i just think many people take it for granted of our great nation. They are quick to criticize but don't have a better alternative.

    • raymondphilippe profile image

      Raymond Philippe 

      15 months ago from The Netherlands

      I enjoyed reading your view on what it means to be an American.


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