What does it mean to be an American?
This is a question many of my fellow study abroad students and I are struggling with during our time here in South Africa. We are consistently judged and looked down upon because we are from the United States of America, by both students and professors of UCT as well as people on the streets. Although not all South Africans I have met have this negative sentiment, the occurrences never fear to unsettle our stomachs.
All my life I’ve been proud to be an American. We wore patriotic shirts and sang songs for Flag Day in elementary school. We say the Pledge of Allegiance and people tear up when they hear the national anthem.
But who are we really? How do you define Americans as a singular people?
How come it seems impossible to me to define who we are after nearly 21 years of being an American myself, but people in other countries think they have us all figured out? They say we’re stupid. Overindulgent. Bullies. A South African girl in my class says she views Americans as the “over-sexed, over-weight, McDonald’s stereotype.” We are all to blame for the Iraqi and Afghanistan wars.
But that’s not me.
I am smart and hungry for more knowledge. I am never satisfied; there is always something more out there.
“The American Dream” is echoed in all Americans. It is what brings all of us together and unites as a country. It is why people from all over the world immigrate to our country – for a better life. And I will work hard to always better myself, those around me, and my community. That is what being an American is all about. Drive.
I refuse to allow the actions of unpopular presidents and wars, ridiculous television shows and exorbitant celebrities define me. Americans can’t be simply defined.
I refuse to be part of the mold they made for me.