What kind of American are you?
This is a most interesting question, especially since -- nowadays -- there is no broad-based definition of what it means to be an American. Even citizenship fails to provide at least one concrete guide; a good number of folks believe that an illegal alien is no less ‘American’ than someone born and raised here.
Of course, if said alien is from North or South America, this argument is a compelling one. Nonetheless, when American identity is raised in that context, it pertains to nationality, not continental origin. Therefore, the illegal alien is precisely that.
Although I am a natural-born citizen of these United States, my perspective on Americanism comes from a unique place.
In addition to being a U.S. national, I am a native of Florida. My home state has spent most of its existence outside Uncle Sam’s purview. Florida is so removed from the U.S. story that it stands on the opposite side of two events which, more than any others, give definition to Americana: The Revolutionary War and the Civil War.
During the former, Florida remained loyal to the British Crown because London had proved a benevolent overseer. As a British possession, Florida enjoyed more liberty than any state would under the eventual U.S. Constitution. It also reaped the advantages which sprung from states’ rights under the Articles of Confederation; minus the political instability.
In the Civil War, Florida’s longstanding aversion to federal overreach -- a proposed state flag bore the words ‘LET US ALONE’ -- made it an early devotee of the Confederacy. Wealthy cotton planters who wished to maintain slavery and dirt poor backwoodsmen who wished to maintain anonymity joined forces against Abraham Lincoln’s plan for a Capitol Hill with expansive powers.
Knowing that if I were born at a different point in time I would have been a redcoat or Johnny Reb is sobering. It leads one to question whether the United States was ever really the “shining city on a hill” Ronald Reagan boasted about. After all, if your home state was opposed to the ‘American Way’ in two tremendously important cases, might this way not necessarily lead toward what Reagan mentioned?
Was your state wrong or was the United States wrong? Furthermore, if your state is now part of the United States, yet never repudiated its history, where does that leave you?
Fortunately, the situation is simple enough for me to digest.
The United States is, as H.P. Lovecraft said, an Anglocentric society brought upon foreign shores. This civilization took its own course apart from the motherland, but still retains its fundamental English values. There are many different points of view within Anglodom, but all spring from the same cultural bedrock.
Despite Florida’s contrarian history, it has been Anglocentric for centuries, and as such finds a place at the American dinner table.
As non-English folks arrive in the U.S., it is in their interest -- and the interest of the native-born American -- for them to assimilate and not try replicating wherever it is they came from. Sans assimilation, well, let Theodore Roosevelt describe it.
“The effort to keep our citizenship divided against itself by the use of the hyphen and along the lines of national origin is certain to breed a spirit of bitterness and prejudice and dislike between great bodies of our citizens,” he said during World War I.
Roosevelt explained that this sentiment “means down at the bottom an effort against the interest of straight-out American citizenship, an effort to bring into our nation the bitter Old World rivalries and jealousies and hatreds.”
That last sentence describes ‘American’ culture today -- disloyal, disruptive, and disgusting.
The fractiousness Roosevelt mentioned has grown so intense that born-and-bred Americans now identify with their ancestors’ lands more than the nation in which they were birthed. Since the United States indulged multicultural decadence and shunned its Anglocentric origins, discord has broken out with increasing frequency.
“We must have in this country but one flag, and for the speech of the people but one language, the English language,” Roosevelt declared.
He said afterward: “This is a nation ---- not a polyglot boarding house.”
It was once.
Joseph Ford Cotto is, the editor-in-chief of The San Francisco Review of Books. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.