The issue of how an American is or should be defined is something which United States of America has struggled with since time immemorial. It is something that emerged even before the signing of Declaration of Independence, before ratification of the Constitution and before American Immigration and Enforcement as well as Border Patrol was created. United States has always grappled with the struggle between newcomers and the natives or the new and the old. This is something that undocumented immigrants calling America their home has a deep and sobering experience (Spiro 79). These are the primary reasons why immigration and the question of which individual is an American must remain within the purview of the federal government as opposed to individual states. The question of which individual is an American is a reminder of the nation's history of the manner in which immigration policies resulted to heated debates during early 20th and late 19th centuries. This paper therefore, endeavors to examine the cultural and legal definitions of an America, and how this definition has changed over time.
The first known ordinary citizen to ask and give answers to the question of an American is St. Jean de Crevecoeur during Revolution. He answered these questions from the point of an ordinary American citizen who was a happy farmer. Crevecoeur defines an American as a person who receives new comers to the new life he embraces and leaves behind all his ancient manners and prejudices. This person holds new ranks and obeys new governments that come into place. He further states that Americans are the pilgrims carrying along with them enormous mass of sciences, arts, industry and vigor from the western nations. An American is an Individual who embraces new principles that require the individual to form new opinions and entertain new as well as divergent opinions in the world. From servile dependence, involuntary idleness, useless labor, and penury, he or she passed to toils of a different nature that is with ample subsistence (Crevecoeur 857). According to him, the definition of who is an American primarily means a man who shows dedication to the newly established free country, open-minded to the dynamic opinions of the times as well as willing to work hard so that he can be rewarded.
Tyler also gives another definition of an America which is by the cultural expectations of the society and is slightly different to Crevecoeur's definition. Tyler defines an American as a person who is hard working rather than patriotic and more free-spirited as well as a perfect gentleman. Tyler worked hard and struggled to triumph the American dream as he achieves the long-life objective of owning a successful newspaper. It is therefore impressive that an American must be someone goal- oriented, dedicated and a hardworking individual who is capable of pursuing the American dream. He must be someone that has the freedom to follow his heart desires and never gives up when it comes to dreams and goals. In addition, Tyler thought that for a person to be defined to be an American he must be a person with the capabilities of standing together with fellow Americans in times of trouble and he must be willing to sacrifice for what he or she believes in (Tyler 406). Therefore, these definitions despite being slightly different are significantly by social and cultural factors of the American society. They have some nexus on some of the qualities used in defining who is an America.
The second limb of the definition of an American is the legal definition, and this has not been an easy task since Revolution. Although, Americans were struggling to have a free country from the Britons, they were special and unique in their definition as it included a number of different characteristics. The legal definition deviated from the cultural aspects such as patriotism, independence, trustworthiness, hard work, and open mind among others. It took the path by defining an American with regards to origin or legitimization process. A person possessing some of this threshold as provided by the law will be to be an American whether he or she possess the cultural qualities. For a person to be said to be an American, he must fall within the statutory or the constitutional category which confers full membership in America. The primary ones are birth in United States of America, birth by American parents in oversea countries and naturalization though with minor exceptions. The categories of definition are under the regulation of federal statutes and for instance citizenship by birth within America is under the Fourteenth Amendment (Greve and Zöller 98).
In saying that they are Americans, some of the citizens express more than their legal or juridical status provided under national law. They do it with the intention of professing their identity or sense of belonging with a heritage of tragic flaws and great deeds, unique nation, vast resources, and shining ideals among others which, as linked to the cultural aspects of citizenship (Crevecoeur 600). As years pass and times, cultures, and trends evolve, the definition of who is an American also changes. For a time after the revolution, some of the above discussed authors developed the definition of who is an American which has some nexus to the legal definition. Therefore, no matter how drastically time goes or changes, some parts of the original definition will always be present in the new definition whether it is culturally and legally informed (Spiro 96).
Crevecoeur, St. John de. Letters from an American Farmer. The Heath Anthology of American Literature. New York, 1979: 856-57.
Greve, Michael S, and Michael Zöller. Citizenship in America and Europe: Beyond the Nation-State?Washington, D.C: AEI Press, 2009. Print.
Spiro, Peter J. Beyond Citizenship: American Identity After Globalization. Oxford [England: Oxford University Press, 2008. Internet resource.
Tyler, Royall. The Contrast. The Heath Anthology of American Literature. New York, 1979: 1177, 1188.