Are You An American?

By Sam Schwartz

When I was seven, I was an American. I was technically an American before that, but when I was seven, I was definitely an American. I knew that the Statue of Liberty was tall; I knew that the government was important; I knew that the debt was a really big number; I knew that we ate too much on Thanksgiving; I knew that Britain said aluminum wrong; I knew that the Constitution was awesome; I knew that baseball was the national pastime, but football was the national sport; and I knew that I was proud to be an American.

I had no idea just why I was proud to be an American, though, and I hadn’t thought about it either. It was just a fact of life.

Then, one day, my Grandpa called me. He started by asking me the boring butterscotch-grandparent stuff — school, weekends, friends, that sort of thing — but eventually, the conversation drifted to America, and he asked me, “why do you love this country?” And I was speechless.

The question plagued me for a few days, intruding in my imagination during passing moments, but it soon slinked away to make room for more pressing matters — like why airplanes don’t fall down (lift from air resistance) and how big outer space is (forever).

So a few years passed, and I gradually grew into my pride. I became more educated on the government of the United States, the Constitution, the history, the rule of law: the faults and fetes.

If a teacher asked me today why I was proud to be an American, I could prattle off a fifteen minute reply without a second thought.

I’ve always known that some people aren’t as fluent in our republic, which didn’t really bother me, until one day when I was bored and decided to ask one of my classmates to name one member of each branch of government: Executive, Legislative, and Judicial.

I figured that in the United States, most people could do the first two and a maybe a few people might get tripped up on the third.

That person couldn’t do it. That person couldn’t even name a member of Congress. But I figured that we only learned about it cursorily in the seventh grade. They were probably an exception, and I asked someone else, then someone else, then someone after that, and so on and so forth.

I probably had to ask fifteen people before I could find a one who could name even a single member of the Congress of the United States of America.

And for those of you suddenly racking your brains and trying to exhume that poorly taught seventh grade civ class, it’s not your fault; don’t feel alone.

According to Politico, a flag-curdling seventy-five percent of American Millennials can’t name a single senator from their home state. According to a C-SPAN poll, 57% of Americans can’t name a single member of the Supreme Court, though 90%, “totally agree,” with the statement, “decisions made by the U.S. Supreme Court have an impact on my everyday life as a citizen.”

So we return to the title. What does it take to be an American? Are you American? Are those Congressionally illiterate Millennials American, or has the largest rash of immigration in U.S. history snuck right under the nose of good ol’ Ronald Reagan?

Personally, I think that Americanness is too fluid a beast to be defined in such a manner. When it comes down to it, at the end of the day, if you feel like an American, you’re probably an American. After all, if this is where you belong, then this is where your nationality belongs.

So be proud of that; don’t shy away from it.

Be proud of your country. There are currently three hundred million people living in the United States. Right now, we have a GDP of 18.57 trillion – with a, “t” – dollars. We have the most powerful army in the history of the world. There are 336 Nobel Laureates from the United States of America, three times more than the runner up, the UK. We beat the Nazis, broke free of the British Empire, vanquished the confederacy, defeated the Soviet Union, emerged from the Nixon Watergate scandal, conquered the great depression, granted every American civil rights, and met the challenge of landing a man on the moon head-on.

There is much to mar the American memory, but there is much to laud as well. And if you are truly proud to call yourself American, not just refrigerator-magnet, put a flag out on memorial day, stand for the national anthem, bumper-sticker proud here’s what you need to do: learn the name of one member of the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial Branches of Government.

Even if you believe that the government might not affect you this instant, if you give a damn about America, if you think this country is, “great,” regardless of who’s President, you need to know these people. They insure your liberties, secure your freedoms, and furnish you with the right to have gotten this far in life without so much as knowing their names. They deserve that honor.

I’m serious. Whatever is on the other tab can wait. Do this now.

Pin your pride to your coat sleeve, but have a good reason to put it there.

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