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June 3, 2008, at 12:00 pm — Blogs / / /

What is it to be an American?

What is it to be an American? What does that mean? Does it mean citizenship? But even when citizenship is clear often someone’s Americanism, if I may, can be called into question.


We all remember now to wear our flag pins.

For many in this country being an American is equated with toughness, with perseverance, an ability to adapt and in fact succeed by adapting.  Toughness of body and toughness of spirit – defending our sacred constitution with oaths and lives.


I remember a trip I took many years ago to Boston, before 9/11. It was my first time in the historic city. An important time nonetheless. My great-grandfather was born here in 1900 down the street from the Kennedy’s (or so the family story goes). My great grandfather was an important influence on me – going to Boston was part fun and part pilgrimage.


I sat in the Green Dragon – a bar said to have been the birthplace of the American revolution. As I sat and sipped a cold beer on the wooden bench I imagined Paul Revere or Ben Franklin sitting staring back at me. Perhaps planning the Boston Tea Party or discussing some point of fact regarding trade with the empire. They were Americans, yet there was nothing then but a promise.


A great experiment started by an act of disobedience.


I also remember hearing of how the battles in the Revolution were fought. Fighting the English using tactics later to be called Guerilla. Adapting. Changing how they did something to achieve their dream. That often elusive American one – the dream we all chase (don’t we?). The freedom to live as we please.


Life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness…


For me the question of being an American was a real one – I was born here, in Ohio, but was raised over seas for many years in Brazil. My cultural identity had been a question in my mind for some time- where did I feel most at home? What was I? Was I an American?


But sitting in that bar…the dust lingering in the afternoon sun filtering in through the two hundred plus year old doorway…I could smell the past. Tangible. Clarity.


I felt strong there. I felt like an American.

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1 comment to What is it to be an American?

  • Jeremy

    What a beautiful little piece of writing, David.

    I think you touch on one of the few things that most people agree can *generally* be said of Americans—we desire the freedom to live (mostly) as we please.

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