“Lady, I only speak two languages: English and bad English.”
– Korben Dallas, The Fifth Element, 1997
What is it that makes an American?
What is the defining criteria?
What special quality makes one an American?
If you line up a bunch of random people, how do you know which ones are Americans and which ones aren’t?
No really. How do you know?
Oh sure, when I lived in Europe and Asia, you could always, always, spot an American in the crowd. They were the ones with the giant cowboy hats shouting, “What’s wrong with you assholes? Don’t any of you speak English?” But if you put a bunch of people side by side, naked and silent say, how do you know which ones are the Americans? Do we have some kind of magical glow? A special tattoo? Oversized sexual organs that light up and play the Star Spangled Banner?
Is American like a soul? Something you can’t see, or touch, or quantify, or measure … but nonetheless some people insist exists despite no supporting evidence whatsoever?
How do you know?
What is it?
What is it that makes one an American?
I mean, it must be something, right? There must be something that makes us Americans different, better and more awesome, than everybody else, right?
There must be.
Our representatives certainly think so.
Earlier this week two so-called “DREAMers” confronted Representative Steve King (R-IA) and Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) at a diner in Iowa.
The DREAMers, a term used to identify certain illegal aliens who were brought to the United States as children and grew up here, were activists Erika Andiola and Cesar Vargas. They wanted to talk to the lawmakers about immigration reform.
Now, look, we’re talking about members of the US Congress. These are educated men, right? King went to Northwest Missouri State University, he majored in math – he didn’t graduate, he doesn’t have a degree, but still. Math. He built King Construction company and founded the Kiron Business Association. He’s been in the House since 2003, that’s over a decade for those of you who aren’t good at math. And Paul? This guy is a doctor, he graduated from Baylor and Duke. These two men, they make federal laws. They work on issues that affect every American. Paul is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he’s on the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, he’s on the Homeland Security committee – if anybody ought to know what constitutes the ethereal quality of “American,” it’s Rand Paul. I mean, you’d think, right?
And yet – and yet – before Andiola and Vargas approached and identified themselves as non-Americans, neither Representative Steve King nor Senator Rand Paul (nor their aids or security detail) were aware of the non-Americans’ status.
Yes, that’s right, foreign invaders were able to walk right up to members of the US government in a public eatery and they literally had to say, “Hi, we’re illegal aliens! Boogah! Boogah!”
Because there was no way to tell just by looking at them.
Paul immediately got up from the table and ran away leaving his unfinished hamburger behind – apparently frightened by the terrifying threat of brown-skinned Mexican Ebola – and I’m forced to wonder at this point what the Fox News headlines would have looked like had it been the President who’d run from two Latinos:
Obama: Won’t defend traditional ‘American’ lunch from invading hordes?
But I digress, as is my tendency.
Steve King wasn’t so lucky, abandoned by Rand Paul and with no ready line of retreat, the congressman was forced to heroically defend America from the invaders all by himself.
ANDIOLA: I’m actually a DREAMer. I’m originally from Mexico, but I was raised here. I graduated from Arizona State University. I know you want to get rid of DACA. And I wanted to give you the opportunity, if you really want to get rid of DACA, just rip mine. You can go ahead and do that. You take my DACA, you will literally take away everything.
KING: This is not what I do. I don’t call you names…
ANDIOLA: I mean, ‘cantaloupe calves?’
KING: That’s drug smugglers. You’re very good at English. You know what I’m saying. So you can understand the English language. You’re saying something that’s not true. I spoke of drug smugglers… Your ears work too, I was speaking of drug smugglers only.
ANDIOLA: You’re the one who’s trying to get rid of DACA.
KING: And you heard why. I told you why. The president has no constitutional authority to do what he has done.
ANDIOLA: Yes he does. [Gestures to Vargas] He’s actually an attorney, he’s a DREAMer. He graduated from law school.
KING: Oh and that makes you an authority. You keep your card. I don’t do individual policy. I do national policy for everyone. It troubles me a great deal that you have such disrespect for the laws of the United States of America. You’re telling me that you don’t have to abide by the laws.
So, what is it that makes King and Paul Americans, but not Andiola and Vargas?
Is it the ability to speak and understand the English language?
King certainly seems to think so and he made a point of saying so – in English.
So do many Americans, many who in fact want to make English the official – and only – language of the United States by force of law.
And say, did you ever wonder why, if it’s so important and all, how come we don’t call our language American?
Why is our language, the language of America, named after some European power? One we fought a war to get the hell away from in point of fact. But yet again, there I go, digressing.
Back on point, Is the ability to speak English, good English, a requirement for being an American?
Where’s that written down?
I mean, have you ever heard Arnold Schwarzeneggar? That guy was the conservative republican governor of Calleefornyah, people were talking about changing the Constitution so he could be President. He’s the very epitome of the cigar chewing, mini-gun wielding, alien killin’ American, but the son of a bitch can’t speak English – or American – worth a shit.
Hell, how about Henry Kissinger?
And don’t even get me started on George W. Bush, because, damn, folks, just damn.
If the ability to speak, write, read, and comprehend English is a requirement for being American, shouldn’t we be testing every American on a regular basis? I don’t know about you, but I’d be perfectly willing to revoke the citizenship of those who can’t seem to grasp the difference between there, they’re, and their. And don’t get me started on the comments under any Fox News article.
So, then, is it respect for the law?
Is respect for the law the thing that makes you an American?
Is it? King was troubled that the DREAMers have “such disrespect for the laws of the United States of America.”
Interesting, that, don’t you think? Respect for the law.
I guess that would mean Cliven Bundy isn’t an American?
Now now, don’t get pissy with me, take it up with Steve King.
Time to deport Mr. Bundy along with all those flag waving militiamen who flaunt federal and state firearms law. And while we’re at it, how about all those Captains of Industry and the Wall Street traders who ignore federal banking laws every single day. They certainly don’t respect the law, not in spirit and not in practice – not unless forced to comply, exactly like an illegal alien. And how about those companies who deliberately violate the federal clean air and clean water acts? They sure as hell don’t respect the law. According to US Congressman Steve King that makes them un-American does it not? Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, both flaunted the law to a degree that actually changed our language, Watergate, Iran-Contra, would King say they aren’t American? And maybe it’s time to scrub our history books, Jesse James, Wyatt Earp, Billy the Kid, every single person in the Confederacy, they all scoffed at the law and I guess that means they aren’t Americans after all.
Hell, just last week, Sarah Palin got a ticket in Wasilla, Alaska for disrespecting the local speed limit…
Oh, now I’m just being silly, am I?
Well, okay, but where do we draw the line? America was founded on disrespect for the law. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, and all the rest who took up arms against the King? Law breakers each and every single one.
Respect for the law? That’s what makes you an American? Seriously?
I call Shenanigans.
Is it a particular religion that makes you an American? Your God, your prophet, your church? Are those what makes you an American? Are they? After all, there are nations which use religion as a defining criteria for citizenship, is America one of those? Well? Guess we’re not so special then, are we?
Is it a skin color? Is it your race? The color of your eyes, the color of your hair? Is it genetics that makes you an American? There certainly have been nations which defined citizenship in such terms, blond-haired, blue-eyed, master race. Is that what America is? Come now, don’t be shy, speak up, do you have to be white to be an American, go on, you can say it. No? Hmmm, are you sure? You are? Well, well how about that?
Is it culture? Is it our way of life that makes us Americans? What culture? What way of life? East Coast? West Coast? North? South? The Midwest? Big city? Small town? Wall Street banker? Appalachian coal miner? Southern California Surfer? Texas Cowboy? Alaskan Fisherman? Rock and Roll? Bluegrass? Polka? Jazz? Rap? Pizza? Frankfurters? Pierogis? Apple pie? Chop suey? Kielbasa? Hamburgers? Breakfast burritos? Freedom Fries? What way of life defines America? Please, describe it in detail and be sure to site your references in the footnotes.
Is it wealth? Do you have to be rich to be an American? Is it health? Is it a standard of living? Is it employment? Is it keeping up with the Kardasians? I mean what is it that makes us American?
“The nerve of these’Dreamers.’ They are here illegally and have used significant resources during their illegal stay in the US […] How can this female Dreamer ever become a productive US citizen when she obviously does not understand that America lives by the rule of law […] I will never understand how any loyal, hard-working taxpaying American would support letting these economic opportunists stay in our country.”
– TiredofBeingTaxedToDeath, Washington Post 8/5/20
Oh, well, is that it?
Is that it right there?
Is loyalty the requirement? Do you have to be hard-working? Do you have to pay taxes? Do you have to be productive? And how are all those things measured? Loyalty to what exactly? To a specific political party? To a state or a sports team or your employer? Hard working? But then shouldn’t we eliminate inheritance? I mean, come on, Paris Hilton? How American is that? Shouldn’t Mitt Romney’s kids have to build their own fortunes from scratch? To be Americans, I mean? No? Well then what’s the threshold? After all, one hell of a lot of illegal immigrants work their little brown asses off at jobs no self-respecting American would do – I mean, that’s why they’re here in the first place, isn’t it? They make the burritos, they pick the tomatoes and the cabbages, they cut the grass, they babysit our kids and clean our houses, they sew the shirts, so what then qualifies as hard work? I’m talking about the kind of hard work that makes you American? Give me a list of the approved American professions. Go on, I’ll wait while you look it up.
And economic opportunists? Tell me more about that. Tell me how Americans don’t take advantage of America’s place in the world economy every single day, because I just never get tired of that story. Oh, come on, don’t be a sorehead, don’t run away like Rand Paul, tell me. What jobs, what degree of work, how much to you have to clear to be an American?
Is it patriotism? Is it blind love of country? Is it how many flags you fly and how straight you stand when they play the national anthem? Is that what makes you an American? Strange then that so many patriots, so many of those who profess to love America, seem to hate every single thing about it. They don’t love this America, they love an America that has never been but exists only in their fevered imagination, one made up of the right people who speak the right language and worship the right god and eat the right foods and sing the right songs with their hands over their hearts.
That’s it, isn’t it? Erika Andiola and Cesar Vargas, they were born somewhere else, but they grew up here same as the rest of us, they were educated here, they graduated from college here, they speak English – damned good educated American English. They love America same as us and they were willing to join the military and put their asses on the line to prove it. They didn’t break the law, their parents did. They’re not deadbeats, they work, they contribute, they dress like us, they eat the food we eat, they listen to the music we listen to and in fact there is nothing, absolutely nothing whatsoever, that would allow a member of the United States government to tell that Andiola and Vargas weren’t Americans simply by looking at them.
So what then is it?
Oh, you’re an American because you were born here?
Ah, I see. Being an American is an accident of birth then, is it? That’s the one indefinable quality that makes you an American, you were born here.
Is that it? Is it really?
John Paul Jones, Alexander Hamilton, Alexander Graham Bell, Joseph Pulitzer, Albert Einstein, Knute Rockne, Irving Berlin, Frank Capra, Bob Hope, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Henry Kissinger, Madeleine Albright, Pamela Anderson, Patrick Ewing, Cary Grant, Alfred Hitchcock, Peter Jennings, Ted Cruz, John McCain, none of these famous Americans were actually born in the United States.
What? You wanted to add something? Hello?
In fact, at the moment there are four US Senators and seven Representatives serving in the US Congress who were not born in the United States.
And where does that leave us?
If it’s not where we were born or the color of our skin or the god we worship or the job we do or food we eat or the music we listen to or the language we speak, if it’s not the car we drive or the house we live in, well then what is it?
What makes someone an American and somebody else not?
It must be something.
It has to be right?
Is it just because we’re here?
Is it just a piece of paper that says we are?
Is that all it is? Paperwork?
Or there more to it?
Isn’t being an American about an ideal?
Isn’t being an American about what’s inside of you? About who you are?
Isn’t being an American about what you’re willing to fight for, what you believe in, what you’re willing to die for?
Isn’t being an American about hope? About belief? About taking a chance? About a willingness to dream big. About the courage to reach for something better against all odds? About the moxie to face down your government and call them to account whenever and wherever – even if it’s the the middle of lunch?
Well, isn’t it?
Black, White, Brown, Yellow, Red, male, female, young, old, straight, gay, Left, Right, Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Wiccan, Pagan, atheist, rich, poor, smart, stupid, all of us, isn’t that who we Americans are? Down underneath it all. Isn’t that exactly what America is about?
Isn’t that, that right there, the thing which makes you an American?
Tell me, is it not a burning desire for freedom and a thirst for liberty?
Isn’t being an American about spirit?
Let me ask you something: Would an American, a real American, let a wall stop them?
Would they really?
“Cut it out! Cut it out! Cut it out! The hell’s the matter with you? Stupid! We’re all very different people. We’re not Watusi. We’re not Spartans. We’re Americans, with a capital ‘A’, huh? You know what that means? Do ya? That means that our forefathers were kicked out of every decent country in the world. We are the wretched refuse. We’re the underdog. We’re mutts!”
– John Winger, Stripes, 1981