On Being a Hyphenated-American

Posted on October 25, 2012 by

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During out latest US History Research Seminar project, we explored what it means to be an American. The goal of this project was to answer these 3 essential questions: What defines an American as an American in 2012? What are the characteristics of an American and how were those fostered/developed? How do contemporary and historical events, trends, and circumstances help define the identity of Americans?

Because I joined this class a little late, I didn’t get to do the full project; however, I did an abridged version of the same project in which I did some background research, interviewed my parents, and listened to my classmates’ presentations, which answered the questions above. I thought my version of the project was particularly interesting because it allowed me to reflect not only on my own personal research on American identity, but my classmates’ as well.

For me, American identity has always been a confusing subject. As the son of Indian immigrants, I have always felt trapped between two different cultures, unable to fully come to a conclusion on what my American identity is. In one of my classmates’ presentations, they described this phenomenon as “being a hyphenated American”. The term hyphenated American is an epithet used for American who is not white or of European heritage.  Interestingly enough, America is one of the few countries on earth where this sort of term is commonly used everyday. For example, when people describe others here, they refer to them as African-Americans or Native-Americans, or in my case, Indian-American.

In some sense, categorizing people in such a manner goes against the very belief that America is a “melting pot” nation. Yet at the same time, being able to proudly distinguish ourselves from those around us is a fundamental aspect of American culture. While we may not all subscribe to the typical stereotypes of an American (White, Christian, Suburban family), we can take pride in being who we are. I think this freedom is the essence of an American. In my research, and in watching my classmates present, freedom was a theme that came up repeatedly. I think this term applies not only to the unique freedoms or “inalienable rights” that America offers its citizens, but also to the fact that America is a place where people can be themselves without the fear of judgment or oppression. To conclude, my definition of an American is one that transcends any race or ethnicity. As my Mom so succinctly put, “I don’t think of myself as any less American than my neighbor simply because I have a different ethnic background”. Thus, I think of an American as a person who believes in and appreciates the fundamental freedoms granted by this country.

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