Who is America?
by: Audrey Hsu
The psychology of the human brain demands that we break visuals or concepts into categories in order to deal with information overloads. What comes out of this is the concept of stereotyping. When we see a woman wearing a black leather jacket with spikes, sporting black lipstick and heavy eyeliner, and toting a black messenger bag, the first stereotype that comes to mind is “goth.” When we see a morbidly obese man holding two hot dogs and three burgers in one hand and an AR-15 in another, wearing a red, white, and blue hat that reads: Make America Great Again! do we see an American? America is a country of many people, ethnicities, religions, and beliefs. Considering our current political climate, the struggle for women’s rights, racial equality, etc., our country appears to be more divided than ever. We must ask ourselves: What does it mean to be an American? And to the people of other countries: Do you see us as that stereotypical man?
Looking for answers, I asked high school students from the U.K., Canada, Indonesia, and Japan what they thought of America. Does America ultimately fulfill their expectations? Do Americans have a common identity?
Charlotte Turner, 16, from Wraysbury, England said “No, we didn’t expect Americans to be anything we imagined. When we [her family] came to San Diego, we were amazed! Everyone plays some sport or another or goes to the beach.” When I asked her about what she imagined an American would be like, she replies, “We didn’t really know what to expect (of Americans), but perhaps like… loud, brash. We also sort of imagined America as the land of burgers, and…” here she laughs, “overweight people.” But she also said at least that one of her expectations were fulfilled: “Americans are so friendly! You ask someone for directions in England and it’s like bloody hell F*** off!”
Darren Li, 15, from Vancouver Canada, hesitated before saying, “Many of my classmates imitate American accents and do mini impressions of Donald Trump. ‘Let’s build a wall to keep the Americans out!’” But he amends this by continuing, “Yes, Americans definitely have a common identity. When I think American, I think of liberty, freedom, and outspoken people who aren’t afraid to be shut down. I think that’s really important, especially because I’m moving to Kansas next year.”
Ayaka Taira, 14, is a freshman who lived in Japan, and currently attends high school in Indonesia. Taira is in the process of deciding to complete her college education in America. She answered my question with all the excitement of a true American. “America is always different every time I go and everywhere I go. Because it’s so big, it’s hard to fit all of America into one person.” When I questioned her about what differences she liked and disliked about her home countries versus The U.S., she responded seriously, “America is so big, and the transport here is hard without taking a car. In Japan, we take the underground train station, or walk. I lived in Tokyo, so I took the train to school every morning, and walked too, everything is close by there. But I like that the schools are a lot more relaxed here. There are no uniforms, you can change classrooms, and the teachers are more relaxed.”
When Americans think about about their own country, do our views link up with the world’s? CCA kids respond: Annalua Corwin, a CCA alumnus who graduated in 2018, commented that much of the world’s perceptions are somewhat allowed. After all, she laughs, “We look at Japanese people and assume that all of them watch anime, or we think the Russians have polar bears with armor on for pets. Every country has their own stereotypes, and it's only fair we have our own too, although they might not be true.” But, what do you think the world should know about America? I prod her. “We definitely should be grateful about the fact that America has freedom of press and speech. Not many countries have the freedoms we do. There's always room for improvement, and movements like #MeToo, or the gun safety movement, that the youth of America get to play a big part in, whereas in some countries [even] adults do not have these same liberties.”
I went on to interview Chrinesha Pereira, 16, a senior at CCA, about what she expected about America when she moved here from England. “I expected a lot more people to be smoking and alot of people surfing. You also wouldn’t think sports are so heavily emphasized at school, and in Europe we drink before we drive. One main difference between America and England are that people are very open about political views. Here, Americans involve youth in open conversation about everything, whilst in other cultures, children and youth have to be invited to the adult table in order to speak their mind.” When I ask her if she could describe America in three words, she said, “Liberty, justice, and open-mindedness.”
While many Americans may identify with some part of the gun-toting, pizza-crazy, overweight man, it is clear to see that America’s values run broader than the confines of our stereotype. Whether America’s image brings to mind a towering statue of Liberty, glamorous Hollywood films, or national anthems, there are definitely solid metaphysical ideals—justice, freedom of speech, open minds and open hearts—that people of other countries perceive, and that almost all Americans can identify with.