“So, where are you from?” That is usually the second question I am asked when meeting a person for the first time (the first question being “Sorry, can you repeat your name?”) It can be frustrating to be a visible minority when people are always questioning where you are from. Never mind the fact that I was born in Canada and that I am also an American citizen. So when I tell people that I am an American and a Canadian, they follow up with another question: “No, where are you really from?”
My parents have always ingrained a sense of pride in my Bengali heritage: I learned to dance Kathak for many years, acted in Bengali plays directed by my father, and went to Bengali school fairly regularly as a child. But that does not discount the fact that I am also Canadian and American, identities that seem to take a back seat given that my skin color is a few shades darker than the average “American”. So I remain persistent: “I am really an American”.
So, what does it mean to be an American these days? Judging by the questions on the U.S. immigration application and the oath one takes in order to become an American, the implication is that you cannot be affiliated with any communist organizations, terrorist cells, or pledge allegiance to any other government. You must abide by the constitution and the law of the land. You cannot act treasonably against the U.S. All of this sounds reasonable to me. By these standards, I rule at being American. But what about the unofficial criteria that some are rallying to impose on minorities in America?
It never ceases to amaze me the kind of ideas people are putting out there about minorities in the U.S. Whether it be fringe groups, social commentators, or political candidates, there seems to be a desperate cry for Americans to take back their country. Excuse the pun, but who hijacked America? Is it the Muslims, who to a large group of Americans, have been synonymous with terrorists? Is it the illegal immigrants from Mexico who (despite the fact that they typically lack the education and linguistic abilities to get a real job) are “stealing” American jobs? Or is it the American-born “anchor babies” that are allowing their parents to remain in the U.S. illegally (which by the way is a myth)?
The way I see it, the individuals who claim to be true patriots are the ones whose ideals are the least American. The best (and most comical) example of this is Rick Perry’s campaign to be “Strong”. He claims that the liberals are attacking America’s religious heritage and that Obama is waging a war on religion. The fact of the matter is, some of the most influential founding fathers (i.e. Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Benjamin Franklin) were more Deist in their religious views. And nowhere in the Constitution does it say that Christianity will be the law of the land. America is not a theocracy, and therefore to suggest that this country was founded on a particular religious heritage as Mr. Perry suggests is not only an erroneous proclamation, but also a dangerous one.
This country was founded by immigrants: settlers that came to this land encroached and overtook the land of Native Americans. Many Americans today can trace their families back to Ellis Island where drones of immigrants truncated their family names and began their own lineage in the United States. Minorities add their flavor to the salad bowl of American culture. To proclaim that one religion or culture is more “American” is simply impossible to prove.
So don’t fear the immigrants that have come to this country to live the American Dream. Don’t admonish them for wanting to establish their own roots in this land of the free. Be wary of those false patriots who are determined to bend the rules of the Constitution is order to push their faith and culture on others. Finally, if you meet a minority for the first time, try not to label them off the bat. And if they say they’re American, believe them!