University of Wisconsin–Madison

Keyword: America

Growing up in the United States into a white middle-class community, I always knew myself as “American.” I don’t remember a time in my life where I ever questioned my identity to be anything other than that. Through the Keywords essay “America” by Kristin Gruesz, I was enlightened to the fact that “American” means a lot more than just one’s ethnicity. Gruesz describes the buzz words of “American,” such as freedom, equality, liberty, and democracy as shared values among all Americans. However, how can we define “American?” One could describe it as geographical location or sharing of those values, but the extent to which one identifies as American is different across intersectional lines. In Meet Kirsten, an American Girl book, Kirsten and her family immigrate from Sweden all the way to Minnesota to work on her uncle’s farm. Kirsten and her family are all very excited to move to the United States, but are also expectedly nervous to start a new life in a new country with entirely new customs and cultural values. This relates to the song “Immigrants (We Get The Job Done)” from the popular Broadway musical “Hamilton.” The lyrics reference the immigration debate that’s sparked in the United States over the last ten years that is full of distaste for immigrants in any regard. In the song, they describe that immigrants are eager to come to America for opportunity and freedom, but recognize that many aren’t welcoming them into our country. What makes them any less “American” than us? While we cherish stories like Kirsten and her migration to America, why are so many people so hateful toward immigrants in modern day?

8 thoughts on “Keyword: America”

  1. Hi Katherine!

    Your post is incredibly topical, and I appreciate how you acknowledge your own perspective. In hindsight, I think it would have been appropriate for me to do so in my post, and it is definitely relevant as we analyze the various texts in this class.

    As for the content of your post, you bring up the trend of hostility towards immigrants. Now, I admit that I haven’t seen the musical, Hamilton. However, I can imagine that this song attests to the bittersweet situations that immigrants find themselves in. Beyond this, however, we can clearly see through narratives and trends in the United States that not all immigrants are treated equally. Immigrants/refugees from Europe are routinely treated better than those from other places. Even still, racial triangulation attests to the differences in treatment between races/immigrants from certain areas. I think it is safe to say that this is unfair and “wrong”, but how might this help us to define “American”? How might this help us analyze how some people might perceive “American” in different ways?

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

  2. Katherine,

    I thought that your blog post touched on numerous important topics that were very intriguing. I too have never found myself questioning my identify of being “American”, and this class has expanded my understanding of the various meanings “American” holds. I really liked your connection between Kirsten’s story and the song from Hamilton. I think that your point about immigrants and their negative portrayal is a very important topic to be spoken about. As we can see through Kristin Gruesz’s Keywords essay, there are an infinite amount of meanings to the word “American”. I think it is important to recognize this limitless definition and use its flexibility to include immigrants and make them feel at home when they choose to pursue a life in America.

  3. I loved your post Katherine! I think the concept of identifying as an American or being labeled as an American is very interesting. Your post reminded me of instances where I’ve been with friends of mine who are not white and get asked by people “where are you from?” and when they answer Wisconsin the person responds “no, but where are you FROM?” I think this ties in with the concept of what mainstream culture perpetuates as an American, versus the actual makeup of the U.S. What is the default when picturing an “American”? When we view an “American” in popular discourse? Further, I would question how has this concept been built of white supremacy and a patriarchal society? How does this play into the differentiation you discuss of racial makeup and immigration? Thanks for sharing your ideas!

  4. Hi Katherine,
    I actually referenced K’naan and the song Immigrants (we get the job done) in a paper for another class but I never made the connection between the song and our discussions of “America” in class. Being a Somalian refugee, K’naan has spent his life creating music that forces listeners to consider the reality of immigration. There seems to be a strong relation between how we treat immigrants and their race. Immigrants come to America expecting a better life, but they quickly realize that being an American is not the same as being “American.” But like you asked, why is this what happens? You pose some very good questions that get me thinking.

  5. Hi Katherine!
    Your first statement as just always identifying yourself as “American” is so true for me as well. Within this class and another I am taking this semester the question of what criteria there is to be “American” has often come up and made me realize the true complexity of the question. Comparing this idea to Hamilton is so strong because the ideas of what makes someone an American then are different than what we consider now. From the time of when Hamilton takes place such pivotal events have occurred that really alter who is an American, even from then to that of Kirsten time frame. I really like the ideas in this post and the ever present question of what makes someone more American than another.

  6. You bring up some very good points in this post. Like you, I have never questioned my identity as an American because I was born and raised here but I never thought about the other qualities that signify being American such as patriotism, equality, and freedom. This makes for an interesting conversation that Kristin Gruesz brings up in her Keywords essay in questioning the definition of American and then tying into the immigrant conversation that you had. Why do you think naturalized Americans are so quick to deny immigrants of the title of “American”?

  7. Hi Katherine!

    I have a very similar story. I grew up in a small, central Wisconsin town where everybody new everybody. It was a town that one might label as “hyper-American”. Growing up this was something that I took for granted, simply being an American. I didn’t give it any more thought than why I had brown hair or why my favorite color was blue; being an American was simply a part of who I was. I remember growing up and having the 4th of July being such an incredible time of pride. But as I got older I started to question all of this, and what American really meant, what being an American meant.

    I still struggle with this concept, even after the Keywords essay on American. I cannot grasp why I was afforded the right to be an American, when there are so many out there, who probably feel more passion and deeper ties to the United States than I do, aren’t given the same chance. Hopefully some day we will be able to come to the bottom of this.

  8. Hi Katherine –

    I thought your post was very well thought out, and it is so interesting how there can be so many different meanings for one word, “American”. People come to America to pursue their own “American Dream”, but sometimes they are greeted with racism and discrimination solely based on the fact that they are not originally from America. The song “Immigrants (We Get the Job Done)” was a great connection you made, as it is very relevant to how Kirsten, her family, and many other immigrants feel when they come to this country. Whether or not people today want to admit it, immigrants play an essential role in our country and without them, who knows where we would be. Great job!

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