What it means to be an American

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What does it mean to be an American? Those who attended the Diversity Leadership Cabinet’s (DLC) first dialogue last Tuesday, Nov. 11, were able to give their input and hear other’s thoughts on what being an American means and problems that the U.S. faces concerning diversity.

Moderators kicked off the meeting by displaying a photo of Nina Davuluri, the most recent Miss America winner and the first Indian-American to be crowned. Her victory was met with a flood of racist backlash on Twitter and became a controversial event in the media.

The moderator asked the question, “Who believes [Davuluri] is American?” and immediately many hands sprang up. Individuals shared their definition of what an American is, and people’s opinions were just as diverse as the crowd in attendance. Some ideas that were expressed included notions of citizenship, willingness to die for America, cultural identity and knowledge of American history.

The conversation eventually moved to a more explicit dialogue about “the myth of the melting pot,” the title of the event. When asked to elaborate on the concept of America as a melting pot, there were once again a multitude of answers.

Some believed a melting pot is an effective metaphor, because the United States has many people from different cultures. It is not like most countries in Europe, they argued, because the people seen walking down the street in New York City are not necessarily representative of the race native to the American region, whereas other countries have had the same people living in their country for thousands of years. Many different cultures are engraved in modern day America.

Others thought a better comparison would be a salad. They believed that, although America has a lot of diversity, it is distinctly separated just like the different ingredients in a salad. They tended to believe there were many different sub-cultures in America as opposed to one American culture.

Towards the end of the meeting, different perspectives arose about modern issues of diversity in the United States.

Some views were more pessimistic about America’s ability to embrace diversity, looking specifically at issues such as foreign policy and what they perceived as social injustice within America.

Others had a more optimistic opinion and focused on the concept of America as “the home of the free,” claiming that every country has its problems but citizens ought to be grateful for the benefits the United States has to offer.

The meeting wrapped up with a discussion reiterating the idea that there is no correct answer on what it truly means to be an American. The group concluded that answers and opinions vary, so it is best just to accept and celebrate different perspectives, rather than holding animosity towards others.

One of the more active members of the group discussion was Amelia Romo, the vice president of diversity and social justice in SLU’s Student Government Association. She stated that the concept of being American is not something one can quantify.

“It is one of those gray areas, and these discussions are needed help clear up these gray areas,” Romo said.

Justin Waldrip and Aaron Memar, the two DLC delegates, were both very happy with the turnout.  They enjoyed the big crowd and energetic participation.