We Americans appear to have a favorite pastime: judging who is a real American and who is just faking it. This dubious game re-appeared most recently with some prominent comments implying that people in Hawaii are not truly American. Cokie Roberts, for instance, recently questioned Sen. Obama's vacation in Hawaii due to the appearances of it as a foreign, exotic place. Mark Penn, the former Clinton campaign strategist, apparently proposed to the other campaign managers that they go after candidate Obama for being insufficiently American due to having spent much of his childhood in Hawaii. To quote Mr. Penn, “His roots to basic American values and culture are at best limited. I cannot image America electing a president during a time of war who is not at his center fundamentally American in his thinking and in his values.” To Sen. Clinton's credit, she seems not to have decided to play Penn's game of American one-upmanship.
If people want to, we can play this game, because, sure, Hawaii does some things differently than other places in America. We like to eat both chili dogs and teriyaki rice bowls, greasy hamburgers and pork laulau. Our little daughters might take hula with Ms. Leilani instead of ballet with Ms. Tammy. Hawaiians speak a lot of languages and come in a lot of shapes, sizes, and colors. We even have some holidays that other states don't have: Kamehameha Day and Prince Kuhio Day. But, you know, every part of the American nation has some special things about it. I grew up in Louisiana and we got off for Mardi Gras when no one else in the U.S. did. New Orleans is like no other place in the U.S.; neither is south Florida with South Beach and Cuban rhythms echoing in night clubs; nor is New York City's Little Italy or Greenwich Village; nor is rural Minnesota with ice fishing and walleyes. Who in Louisiana ever heard of going ice fishing?! It's crazy. Even a place like Kansas has geography and an agriculture only found in a small region of this nation. Most Americans don't have lifestyles like a Kansan.
I am not writing this to defend Hawaii's Americanness. Perhaps the fact that, according to the Heritage Foundation, the ethnicity of "Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander" is the single most over-represented group in the American armed forces, serving at over 6 times their population percentage, makes the point stronger than I ever could. This also has nothing to do with political left, right, and center. Instead I am writing to encourage us to stop beating our fellow citizens up for eating the wrong things, living in the wrong places, or thinking the wrong thoughts. It's like a discussion among siblings about who loves their mother the most. The only people who ever leave such conversations feeling better are those who need to pick themselves up by knocking others down.
I am not wise enough to say what the essence of being American is, but here are a few things that make me proud to be American. I am proud when I see pictures of soldiers in Iraq playing with a child when they know that tomorrow a roadside bomb could take them away. I am proud when I look at the American Olympic team and see virtually every ethnicity in the world standing side by side all representing who America is. I am proud when Americans think that if any nation can do something amazing, it would be America. Go to Mars? Sure, America can do it if we want to! Build a colony at the bottom of the ocean? Sure! If not us, who?
However, to accomplish such dreams, we cannot spend all our time fighting one another. So let's stop playing the "Who's really American" game and instead fight over real problems we can really solve together -as Americans.***
***OK, this is probably a different tone than most posts. That's because it's intentionally written for a public audience, not just my blogger friends. But it's draft number one. Any advice on the sentiment or ways to rephrase for better effect are welcome.