Have you ever thought what it is to be an American? or a European?
While the USA is debating what New York values are, how they are different from the rest of the country, and who is American enough or creme de la creme to become and be an American, Europe is doing kind of the same. Thinking of European values and what kind of immigrants deserve to live here.
So what is it to be an American? or a European? Do I know? Do you know?
I think this is a great question to ask ourselves, our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents, especially in countries with a strong immigration history, like Canada and the USA, and a more or less recent one, like Italy, or even Europe. Would I be and have exactly the same opportunities in the country of my parents and grandparents? Would I have the same rights, education, beliefs, career and opportunities? Would I have the same Life?
This is what I partially talked about with “new Italians” during my travels in Italy and a few other travelers I met along the way during my more recent world travels. And most importantly observed. All the affection, love and romance in California and Mexico City, freedom of speech and interesting and open discussions in Canada, USA and Italy.
Where else in the world would a couple of strangers meet in the middle of the city and all of a sudden start openly and passionately talking about world, politics and everything else in between?
Florence, Italy, the City of Renaissance, that is.
When I was an Italian language tutor and instructor, I met people of Italian heritage who did not speak Italian, and some of them have never been to the country of their parents or grandparents and their cultural awareness and reference of Italy was based on US Italian communities, and it is not quite the same. I also met those who were learning the language of their parents only when they retired. When I asked them why, many of them replied it was because of the accent, and their parents felt it would be easier for their children to be accepted as Americans, one of them, once they had an American accent. However, they could easily enough obtain Italian and European citizenship, if they really wanted to.
When I think of it, it is fair of any advanced society recognize the efforts of those who were born in the country and the ones with heritage, and also to fully recognize the efforts of those who actually speak the language, are aware of the culture and its peculiarities. Study at the University, graduate, have a business, travel, live, work and consider the country their home. Obvious reasons to be accepted as equal citizens, and the most reasonable and fair path to American and European citizenship. At least to me.
Food for Thought, by the way:
In American Universities students have a luxury of choosing their professors, topics, schedule, specialization, degree and even grades (a very transparent and fair (!) system, for the most part).
If the Law doesn’t make sense, you don’t follow the Law, you change the Law. This is what has been done before, and the main reason why females have the right to vote now. And the main reason why Equal Rights and Justice are important.
Creme de la creme it is when we treat it like it is creme de la creme.
I am obviously not an Italian, and I never pretend to be one. However, I recognize that this is the language of my heart and soul, part of my identity, part of who I am, and I honor it. This is what motivated me to learn the language at the University, study and travel in Italy, get a degree in Italian, become a tutor, interpreter, instructor, and write about Italy and languages also.
I never think of my accent (or nationality for that matter), unless someone asks me about it in a conversation. Neither I think of it as a weakness, on the contrary, I think of it as a strength. The strength of acknowledging and honoring every part of who I am and every part of my identity. Besides that, I actually like that I can read and write and communicate in Russian, Belarusian, English, Italian and a little bit of Spanish. Accent or not. It is definitely a great advantage, especially during my travels, doing research, communicating with others and being a writer and travel blogger. And I am really glad that I was never aware of the perception that it is not possible to be multicultural and multilingual.
To me it is natural just like breathing.
However, I am aware of Amin Maalouf’s theory about an individual knowing and speaking several languages. The first one is the language of identity, the second is English and also another language, freely chosen, as the language of the heart, the language of the soul and the language you love. With each individual being encouraged to accept his own diversity and with his identity being a sum of all his/her affiliations, while at the same time being accepted, respected and appreciated for it by other people, individuals and the society, potentially with a multicultural identity of its own.
May be, knowledge of other languages and cultures helps us eventually become not only natural speakers of several languages, but also helps us become independent thinkers, cultural interpreters/mediators and promote understanding between other people and other cultures. It also helps us become identically and culturally unfrozen by morphing into a multicultural identity of our own.
The identity that is actually living its authentic truth.
A couple of years ago I moved to Minsk, Belarus and felt so “different”, and “liberal”, and “opinionated”, and so “American” in many ways, in the city and country that is my native Home. Naturally, when I returned to the USA, one of my first US trips was to Philadelphia, the city that pretty much shaped and influenced the course of American and World history.
The Birthplace of the United States. Cradle of Liberty.
Liberty Bell. American Revolution. Declaration of Independence. Constitution.
Equality and Justice for All.
Does it actually mean more to me?
Historic city it might be, however, after exploring its “serious” side, I was completely sidetracked by its artistic, loving and colorful side as well. And it became City of Love and Art for me.
Interestingly enough, this was the city where I had one of the most meaningful for me conversations ever about what it is to be an American. While I was saying how much more independent, liberal and American I feel in the USA, especially as a female. Just packed my things, and a few hours later I am in New York, or Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco or Key West or even Montreal, exploring many interesting places along the way, doing and living what I love. What Liberty is for me! I heard a rather interesting interpretation of my words and what it is to be an American.
Apparently, it is the ability to be my authentic self. First and the most. The ability to respectfully and lovingly say to “the crowd” something like this. F… You, and You, and You. These are my beliefs, my perspective, my truth, this is what I stand for. This is who I am.
Other authentic individuals respect this and say “I am with You”.
It might not be the right answer to any American test citizenship questions (by the way, you get a brochure to learn all the right answers, so it is very easy, however, not as easy as winning a birth lottery and speaking a native language), and this is the way to become an individual, someone who stands for his/her own beliefs and truth. At least I think so personally and ironically enough, this is the way a few individuals gained my admiration and respect, and I am with them on this.
While I was writing this article, I remembered another interesting conversation I had with someone who was brave enough to “come out of the closet”, in another democratic country though. And what else can anyone really say, besides… “It is who you are. Why do you even need to come out?” It is the society who needs to do so in order to transcend its own stereotypes and dogmas, and evolve to a fair, inclusive and respectful of all individuals society”.
How do I know this? Try traveling the world as an opinionated “blonde”, “feminist”, “vegetarian”, “Russian”, “accent”, “Masters”, “rich”, “trust-fund” female? And these are the most positive ones )
However, authentic in every possible way! Reasons to admire and respect myself more, and reasons to admire and respect even more all authentic beings. May be, before going as far as asking what it is to be an American or a European, we should ask ourselves: “What is it to be authentic and human? What is it be an adult?”
Peace and Love,
All opinions and experiences are, as always, my own.
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