What It Means to Be American

954 WordsSep 8, 20114 Pages
Americans strongly affirm the principles of religious freedom, religious tolerance, and separation of church and state. Nearly 9-in-10 (88 percent) Americans agree that America was founded on the idea of religious freedom for everyone, including religious groups that are unpopular. Ninety-five percent of Americans agree that all religious books should be treated with respect even if we don’t share the religious beliefs of those who use them. Nearly two-thirds (66 percent) of Americans agree that we must maintain a strict separation of church and state. Americans’ views of Muslims and Islam are mixed, however. As with other previously marginalized religious groups in U.S. history, Americans are grappling with the questions Islam poses to…show more content…
As Obama said in his keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, "in no other country on Earth is my story even possible." But being American doesn't just mean opportunity, even for the "skinny kid with a funny name." It means knowing that, even though our system is imperfect, I can vote for whomever I want and even oppose the government without fear. Being American also means elections will be decided according to the law, without riots or guns. In the United States in 2000, a hotly disputed election was decided by the Supreme Court; in Kenya in 2007, a disputed election led to terrible violence. When I'm traveling and people ask about my German-sounding name, I usually say, simply, "I'm American -- we're from everywhere!" If they persist, I explain that my people spoke Yiddish, a language based on German. Still, some ask, unsatisfied, "But where are you from?" Where am I from? I'm from Vilna, Lithuania, where my father's father was born. I'm from the Lower East Side of New York, where my mother's mother arrived in 1905 from Kiev and where her father sold fruit from a cart. I'm from suburban Pittsburgh and the Upper West Side. Barack Obama is from Kenya, and Kansas, and Hawaii and Chicago, and he'll be a resident of Washington D.C. for the next four or eight years. I would have liked to go back to Rwanda or Kenya or Ethiopia on Inauguration Day. Maybe then I wouldn't have to explain: I could just point to the TV and say: "Look.
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