Thursday, August 14, 2008

True Americans

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.


pjd said...

That's all pretty ironic coming from a furry, four-legged creature from the Andes. Oh, did you mean South American?

Yes, I agree that Hawaiians are not American in the least. And I think there's reasonable evidence to show that Californians are definitely from another planet altogether. Not like Arizonans, who are real Americans. Arizona, McCain's state, did the truly American thing in eliminating the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday.

Sorry, didn't mean to get all political. I do agree with everything you've said. And that's the reason I preferred Obama over Clinton in the primary--she is a divisive figure, whereas Obama represents integration. And now McCain's campaign is turning cynical and negative and divisive. I hope Obama can stick to his message of diversity, tolerance, and embracing differences rather than ridiculing them.

Unfortunately, I think that the ideal of America is somewhat removed from the fact of America. Americans tend to be individualists, go-getters, pioneers. Opinionated and cocksure. But the ideal of America is the ideal of Utopia--everyone equal, everyone given a fair and equal chance, everyone accepted and valued and welcomed no matter how they are different.

As far as the writing goes, if you can quote a couple more statistics or examples, I think it would ground your message a little better. It's a good message, strongly argued, but it could use a little more meat behind its punch.

pacatrue said...

Thanks for the thoughts, pjd. What parts of the little essay did you think need more meat? Is it the Hawaiians are not Americans part or awesome things about America part or something else?

pjd said...

In rereading it, you're right that it is actually chock full of specifics... I think it's the conclusion, though. Us mainlanders have a hard time getting totally worked up when Hawaiians get dissed. I read the opening paragraph and thought, "Roberts and Penn are idiots. So?" My second thought was, "Why should Hawaiians care if a few idiots don't think of them as Americans? They get to live in freakin' paradise." It's probably just sour grapes or out of control political spin.

Then the conclusion says, "we cannot spend all our time fighting one another..." But the only fighting was the two idiots mentioned in the opening paragraph. You've done a good job of showing the diversity and the preposterousness of the idea of any kind of "true" American, but you haven't really shown much of the fighting. I guess that's where the meat is needed, if your main point is that bashing any segment of the population is futile, and can't we all just get along, then I don't think a couple of idiots dissing the Americanness of Hawaiians is going to raise much ire outside the islands.

pacatrue said...

Ah, got ya.

Mamaebeth said...

i thought it was good and have no constructive comments.

Precie said...

I agree with pjd's suggestions.

And here's another interesting response to the Roberts issue.

From a different perspective, while I understand that pretty much everything a presidential candidate does is up for scrutiny, why does a family vacation have to involve political strategy? Who gets to decide where presidential candidates get to holiday? I'm sure there would have been backlash if Obama had chosen Hilton Head rather than, say, Myrtle Beach or Nantucket over a southern US vacation spot. Good grief, Cokie, get over it.

pjd said...

The difference, of course, is that Obama does not own a ranch deep in the heart of Texas. Where real 'murkins live, dammit.

Precie said...

LOL. Illinois is soooooo un-American.

writtenwyrdd said...

I thought hte issue was that he spent a bunch of his childhood in his stepfather's homeland (Thailand?) but I am sure people can be stupid about Hawaii. Good grief, this campaign has become nasty, hasn't it?

I think what they are trying to IMPLY is that that Obama isn't a W.A.S.P. He's got a tint to him and that apparently bothers people. Or maybe it's just me inferring that? Stupid stuff going on, anyhow. Why can't they talk about what the candidate's records are and what they are proposing to do in office?

sylvia said...

This is probably way too late, sorry. :/

I like it and I thought it made a lot of important points. It made me think.

The concept of it being funny to call some states "Unamerican" but not others is weird to me. I guess as an immigrant in California, I always took Hawaii and Alaska seriously. I shouldn't really be surprised that others don't - but I am.

Having said all that, I think you are diluting your own point.


If people want to, we can play this game, because, sure, Hawaii does some things differently than other places in America.

Which people? Who wants to? Start this at "Sure, Hawaii does some things differently..." and I think it is stronger.

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.

None of us really can. This statement carries no weight and adds little. Take the same paragraph simply with the 'I'm proud' statements (without qualification) and it really hits home.

I think your points are well-made but it feels to me like you are being overly careful - and I'm not sure to what end.

I'm not a fan of bitchy ranty opinionated posts but I think this is bending over backwards and could be at risk of not being taken seriously.