Who is American?

“America” by Kirsten Silva Gruesz is an essay all about what it means to be/identify as an American, and what “America” the word represents/describes. The word “America” itself is a little ironic because it “has generally been used as a term of consolidation, homogenization, and unification, not a term that invites recognition of difference, dissonance, and plurality” (p. 20), even though America is known as a melting pot of many different cultures, religions, and races. Among other things, “America” is used as a synonym for the United States, as well as a term used to describe the geographic region where it lies. “America” is one of those words of which every single person has a definition that differs at least a little bit than the next.

The word “American” is in a similar spot with “America” in regards to meaning because there are so many things one could mean when someone says “American.” For someone to be “American” could mean that they live in the United States, they could’ve been born in America, or they could just identify with the people and cultures that call America home.

The last case is a lot more common than people think. On February 3rd,
Shéyaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, better known as his stage name 21 Savage, was arrested by ICE on charges of living in the United States illegally. The news of the arrest definitely surprised me because he has always “repped” the streets of Atlanta, a cultural hub of the United States. He obviously considers himself an “American,” but the government of the US has a different definition of the term. This raises the question, should there be one strict definition of the word? And who should be the people who decide what that is? At the moment, to be an American in the government’s eyes requires you to either be born in America, or have an application to obtain a visa be successful. Should people have to apply to be a part of a community they identify with?

21 Savage came to the United States when he was 12 years old, so he can say he grew up in the United States. He has also given back to his community in countless ways including donating money and hosting an annual back to school drive where young students receive free haircuts, food, school supplies, and clothing. He raps about growing up in Atlanta in many of his songs; he has a special connection with the city. However, he still faces deportation back to his country of origin, England. If he is deported, America would be losing a citizen. But if he is not deported, it would be unfair to all of the other immigrants who have been deported even though their goal was to be able to call themselves Americans. The open definition of “American” is doing more harm than good, especially those that consider themselves American, but do not pass the requirements the government has before one can technically become American.

2 thoughts on “Who is American?”

  1. I do agree that this topic does have controversy because 21 savage is a very popular part of our society and has been incorporated in it for a while now, however legally he is in a bit of a situation. I think it is a super good way to represent how different people and standards view the term “American” and that one can classify as one, but may not be seen as one.

  2. This is such a relevant connection of popular culture to the course content. THANK YOU for sharing! It is interesting to consider who and what are the primary social and/or political factors that define what is “America” and who is regarded as “American.” I found the following sentences of your post particularly thought provoking: “If he is deported, America would be losing a citizen. But if he is not deported, it would be unfair to all of the other immigrants who have been deported even though their goal was to be able to call themselves Americans.” Although I do not know what will happen in the case of 21 Savage, it is possible that his status as a famous person (in addition to the fact that he has been a contributing member of the United States for quite some time) will grant him privilege that other immigrants may not have.

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