Today, the many opportunities we have to better

Today, as Americans, we usually go about our lives with little to no thought as to what it
truly means to live out each of our days as an American. Sometimes we can take for granted
the many opportunities we have to better our personal lives, and how most of us Americans do
not have to worry about basic human needs. We are truly fortunate to live in America, but what
does it really mean to be American? In my opinion, being American means a generally plentiful
opportunity for every citizen, the freedom to pursue individual happiness, and the relative safety
that comes with living in this country. As far as who gets to be American one must be either
born within the United States borders or go through the naturalization process.
Being born in America means a generally plentiful opportunity to develop one’s life into
what one chooses it to be. J.D. Vance describes his early opportunity in saying,”I almost failed
out of high school. I nearly gave in to the deep anger and resentment harbored by everyone
around me. Today people look at me, my job, my Ivy League credentials…”(J.D. Vance 2). Even
though Vance had been born into poor circumstances, he was able to capitalize on his
opportunities that were an inherent part of his being an American. Vance’s success story is an
example of how the plentiful opportunity of this land has allowed even the person at the bottom
of society to move to the top. Despite the fact that these success stories are a common part of
American society, it is good to keep in mind that these successful people do not gain their
success on their own. Betsy Rader acknowledges this occurrence in her article by stating,”Yes, I
worked hard, but I didn’t just pull myself up by my bootstraps. And neither did Vance. The truth
is that people helped us out…”(Rader 7). Like Vance, Rader too was born into poor
circumstances and became successful through the opportunities that came with being
American. She goes on to say that it was not one hundred percent her initiative that accounts
for her success, but the collective help of other people in her life. In this way the addition of
people in one’s life can be viewed as an opportunity to better one’s own life. Whether an
American’s opportunity comes from their own initiative, or through the help of others, opportunity
is abound in America and it has become one of America’s trademarks.
Secondly, the freedom to pursue individual happiness is an integrated part of what it
means to be American. Faatimah Solomon, identified her source of happiness and
empowerment as the hijab she chose to wear and had grown weary of the oppression from
others she felt by wearing it by stating,”I am sick of conclusions being drawn about me based on
nothing more than a piece of cloth I wear, and how it has made it difficult to present and convey
myself in the way I want to”(Solomon 7). Solomon found her happiness and empowerment in
the act of wearing her hijab and In America this is something that she is free to do. America is a
land of many races and ethnicities and if their traditions are what makes the individual person
happy then they have the right to exercise their freedom of expression. At the end of the day, all
Americans are immigrants and each of us have different customs that make us who we are. If a
particular custom is a source of individual happiness then that person should exercise this
custom freely. Thomas Jefferson stated in the Declaration Of Independence that,”We hold these
truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator
with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of
happiness”(Declaration Of Independence). One of America’s core founding documents, The
Declaration Of Independence, clearly states that for those who are citizens of the United States,
they will have the right to pursue their own happiness. This a fundamental building block of
America and thus, makes it a meaning of being an American.
The relative safety of America has allowed it to become a safe haven for many people
displaced by war and has allowed the education system to flourish. William Deresiewicz
describes the outcome of safety, which is a good education system, as,”…the stereotypical
ultra-high-achieving college students of today. A double major, a sport, a musical instrument, a
couple foreign languages…”(Deresiewicz 1). A good education system is a direct result of safety
in a country. As in the case with America, it has a good education system meaning it is a safe
country. The education system outputs, “ultra-high-achieving college students”, further
supporting its good education system. The fact that these college students are focused on good
grades and not worried about basic human needs means that America has become relatively
safe. While it is true that America’s safety does fall short at times, this is bound to happen
because it is such a broad country with many borders and ethnic differences which is why the
safety is described as “relative”. This relative safety has become commonplace and has allowed
it to become a meaning of being an American. Nick observed the complacency of those
accustomed to the American way of life by stating, “Sometimes they came and went without
having met Gatsby at all, came for the party with a simplicity of heart that has its own ticket of
admission”(Fitzgerald 45). The scene Nick describes is not one of danger or fear but of safety
and calm. This is because America is a place of safety for many. The fact that they are even
having a party shows that these Americans are not worried about anything life threatening. As
this reality has been commonplace for many years it has also become part of the American
experience. America is a pretty safe country to reside even if some places are not the best.
Overall, the relative safety of America has made it known as a safe place to be for many people
and has allowed it to become a meaning of being American.
Lastly, those who get to call themselves American are those who are born within the
borders of America or those who have gone through the Naturalization process. Article fourteen
of the U.S. Constitution states that, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and
subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and the state in which they
reside”(U.S. Constitution Article 14 Section 1). This is a very straightforward quote and
effectively sums up the law in regard to how someone gets to call themselves American. If
someone who wants to be American they have to go through the Naturalization process. If you
have been born within the United States borders then you can call yourself American. I do not
think that just because someone is physically present within the U.S. borders that they get to
call themselves American.
At the end of the day, being American is a privilege that has meaning behind it. The
generally plentiful opportunity, the freedom to pursue individual happiness and the relative
safety of residing within the U.S. borders are all meanings of being American. Sure, America is
not the only country that has these qualities, but this is my home and that’s what sets it apart
from anywhere else. I am just proud that my home has given me all the opportunity that it has
and the support to pursue my happiness

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