5 Stories About What It Means To Feel American Right Now
From the newly naturalized to the born-and-raised, we hear about the complexities of an American identity.
Here at The FADER, we strongly believe that if you love someone, you should be honest with them. So, ahead of the Fourth of July — that gloriously rambunctious celebration of all that is good about the U.S.A. — we asked some real Americans how they really feel about their national identity. That included folks born here and now living abroad, folks naturalized under both Obama and Trump, and folks now applying for official citizenship. The answers are manifold, heartfelt and critical both. Ultimately, they display a faith, or at the very least a desire for faith.
Happy Birthday, America. We still want to believe in you.
Juan, bike share project manager
I was born in Bogotá, Colombia. My family came to the states in 1990 on a tourist visa and we just overstayed it. Different members of my family were undocumented for different periods. My brother married an American woman and became a resident in ’94. He petitioned for my mom, and my mom petitioned for me. So the answer to “when did you apply for citizenship” is “as soon as I could,” but for me that meant 22 years.
I had felt American for a long time before that. But it was nice to get the document, and to have my family come to the ceremony. It was this big massive thing in San Antonio with thousands of people getting naturalized. They call out countries alphabetically. There weren’t that many Colombians. But half the room was Mexican. So they skipped Mexico. They went from, like, Lithuania to Nigeria. It was obvious that they were saving it for the end. And then when it got to the end, they called “Mexico,” and it was just, like, a roar of applause. It was spine-chilling.
Obama was the first presidential candidate whose life story resonated with me. I'm proud his signature is on my naturalization certificate and that I became a citizen in time to vote for his re-election. This rosy glow is undercut slightly by the Obama administration's inability to pass comprehensive immigration reform and their harsh stance on deportation. Becoming a citizen in 2012 also meant acknowledging that nativism and xenophobia were on the rise, if not in number then at least in political power, and that as a result other immigrants like myself would suffer.
My feelings about the Fourth of July have changed over time, not so much as a result of me becoming a citizen, but more with me growing older and having more complicated thoughts about nationalism in general. Obviously the American idea as a brand is not at its finest moment worldwide right now. But, like — the woman my brother married, she was born and raised in Boston, she’s from one of those old Boston families. We would spend the Fourth of July up in Maine on a boat eating lobster watching fireworks. It turned out, that was not some weird myth! That was actually my life!
I moved here from Jamaica in 1995 because job-wise, financial-wise, medical-wise it was more affordable than my country. I’m studying for the citizenship test now. Being a citizen, you have more access to things, and you’re entitled to more — like if you apply for programs. It’s a big asset. I do appreciate being here. I’ve been thinking about [getting my citizenship] for 5 years now. I wasn’t going to do it, but then I said, I think I should. It will be much better for me once I get it. Once I have U.S. citizenship I can work anywhere. It’s such a good thing.
I for sure already think of myself as an American, and other people think of me as American. As for Donald Trump, I overlook that part and just look at the good side. If it was he alone [in this country], I wouldn’t get my citizenship. But I’ll still be doing it, whoever’s in office. It doesn’t make a difference to me. And I know it will be different soon.
For July 4th, my friends have barbecues and stuff. I celebrate with them, just like if I was in my country. We can see the fireworks from where we live. I do the same things, respect each holiday. People fought for this country.
Asi, video game designer
I moved to Pittsburgh in 2004 because I went to study at Carnegie Mellon. I got really excited about my studies, because video games and entertainment is much more developed here than in Israel. [My wife] Britta had just come to Carnegie Mellon from Germany for a semester. And we met and decided to make the U.S. our home.
At Carnegie Mellon, I did a project around the Middle East peace process and video games, and I started a company around it. Someone told me that I am doing something that is special enough that I should go for a special Green Card application. We made a case that what I’m doing is in the national interest of the United States. Once you’ve got a Green Card, you need to wait 5 years. So I waited 5 years.
“I go on the subway and see people of 10 different nationalities. I see how people can succeed here. You could be ‘American’ and come from any place.” — Asi
I was very proud to become an American on June 19, 2015. With what has happened [with Trump], it would be very, very different [to get U.S. citizenship now]. I would still do it, for sure. No question. And even with everything that’s happened to us in the last year or two, I feel more American than Israeli because I feel some reservations about the direction that Israel is going. In Israel we lost this idea that government can change. They don’t have really checks and balances, and it’s going more and more in a direction where they limit the right to protest.
Look, here, you need to speak English, you need to do certain things. There’s always people who seem more American because they grew up here, after three generations. But it’s not so nationalistic here. It’s very different than Israel, or Europe. You know? French are French. It’s very hard to be “French” when you didn’t grow up in that country — you’ll always be different. I go on the subway and see people of 10 different nationalities. I see how people can succeed here, people that came from my country, from other countries. That’s what I appreciate most about it. You could be 'American' and come from any place.
Linsey, freelance designer
I moved to Mexico City a few days after the inauguration. My friends would joke that I moved because of Trump, but I had plans to move before Trump. I'm not proud to be an American citizen right now at this time, but I felt kind of bad leaving, actually. I felt like all my friends are protesting, and I'm just running off to Mexico. But it's not like I don't get a opportunity to be involved in discussions here. When I first got here everyone wanted to know what was going on and how people felt and did I know anyone that voted for Trump? That's still a question that I get all the time. Which I do, of course I do, we all do — we all have family.
[When I moved,] I did it with a regular travel visa — you can have six months as a U.S. citizen, and evidently you can leave and come back. But I was in New York for about a month working in May and three weeks ago, I came back and got rejected at the airport. I had to spend the night in a holding cell. Because I had so many entrances and exits in the past two years, they were like, "You're living here, you're working here, you have to go back and get a visa."
[Being detained] was shitty: we didn't have any water, they didn't give anyone food until we had a flight because the airlines are the ones that supply your dinner, and some people didn't get flights until 10 hours after they got in. [Eventually,] they sent me back to Texas for some reason. Standing in that customs line on the way back in and watching what goes down with the customs officer and how nervous people are stepping up to that desk, it's something I've never had to go through. I've never, ever been nervous that I wasn't going to get let in. The experience was valuable in that way because that is a privilege that we have as Americans and now I get it a little more. It's totally anxiety-inducing. If I feel that, I can't imagine what people coming to the U.S. [feel] when it's so much more strict.
When I talk with people about [Trump and America] here, they're like, look at our government, it's so corrupt and so disorganized, at least the U.S. does this, this, and this. I get it, nowhere is ideal, but I think it's harder to accept it when it's a place that you grew up in.
I don't think [I'll live in America] for five, ten years. I don't see it on the horizon. I know when I come back I'll be in New York because New York, to me, feels so much more inclusive than the rest of America.
My sister is coming from the U.S. to visit me [this weekend] so I'm going to be with her, but there will be no mention of 4th of July. [When I was younger] we always made red, white, and blue cupcakes, but it wasn't really about American pride. It was always just another holiday, a day off work and an excuse to drink.
I grew up in Stoke-on-Trent, about 20 miles south of Manchester, right in the heart of deindustrialized England. First moved here full time in 2010, but would do the 90 day visits before then. That’s the maximum you're allowed to stay without a visa. On November 8th, 2016, I decided to apply for citizenship. I sent my application in the following morning.
After witnessing the pantomime that unfolded over the previous months result in President Trump I just remember feeling a little helpless and that in order for my opinion to count I needed to be able to vote next time around. I can't imagine I'll be framing my "Welcome to America" letter signed "President Trump" though. Not really the kind of thing I would hang above the mantel piece, personally.
I probably knew about Fourth of July first from a film, maybe the classic What About Bob? Then it just seemed like an excuse to blow off fireworks. I first celebrated a Fourth in 2009. A crew of us convoyed out to Fire Island. To be perfectly honest, the patriotic elements of the occasion were never once brought up in conversation. It was a great time though.
America's relationship with its flag is really funny to me. A huge amount of importance is put on showing respect to the flag, something I became more aware of in particular throughout the whole naturalization process. Yet Star Spangled thong bikinis and beer helmets and the like are absolutely everywhere! Seems kind of hypocritical. You must pledge your allegiance to this, but also it's totally fine to have a jockstrap made of it too.