By Daniel Torres
What does it mean to be an American? Deciding the meaning of such an important principle will shape not just the future of our country but the future of the entire world. The US has been around for two-hundred and forty-four years, and even after these two and a half centuries of existence, we are still trying to find the answer to that question. Expansions, changes in ideologies, amendments to our constitution and the constant assimilation of other cultures, has forced our country to continually change politically and socially.
Let us do a little experiment, look around you at all the people you are surrounded by, if you are currently alone, think of the people in your life; coworkers, classmates, friends and family. Now describe them for me really quick; who are they? How do you see them? Think of the factors you take into consideration when remembering them, what do you relate them with? Now let me ask you this: How many of them did you identify as human beings? How we identify others is also how we identify ourselves; if we cannot see others as human, how can we see ourselves as such? Then as a collective, will you be able to see others as people? You are not alone in this way of thinking, prejudice is a curse that has plagued society since the beginning of civilization. Historically, society was determined by three different factors: race, nationality and religion; These elements served as a way to identify an individual and collectively, a nation.
Yet, over the course of time, the United States has slowly chipped away at these elements and celebrated each person as an individual. You have your own needs, you have your own dreams, your personal idea of a good life; one that might not conform to a traditional or particular way of living. We see this in every aspect of life in modern society, from organizations specifically designed to cater to a specific demographic, to the reversal or complete rejection of traditional sexual, gender, family and/or professional roles.
How then do you determine the identity of a country as diverse and multicultural as the United States? We cannot promote the idea that one race of people is above another, we must promote justice for all regardless of what race they are. So, we should never identify the US with a specific race, because this nation has been built on the backs of all races.
What about religion? How many times have you heard conservative advocates state that “America is a Christian nation?” Of course this is false. Not only does our country have a clear division of church and state, but we also have freedom of religion, one of the cornerstones of this country. If there is a unifying value that every single person in the US can agree on regardless of their personal ideas, is freedom. The freedom of church is one that we are not going to get rid of anytime soon.
So then, should we adopt nationality as the general rule to judge whether someone is American or not? Well if you do that, you would be excluding the millions of immigrants that live in the United States, people who are part of our country, and how about immigrants who serve in our armed forces? I am an American citizen, I became an American citizen through my military service in the Marine Corps, but I was born in Mexico; yet my loyalty and service are 100% to the US. In a country made up of immigrants, nationality cannot be the factor that defines us.
We find ourselves at a point in our nation’s history where we must evolve, we need to shape our understanding of how we identify ourselves as a society, now more than ever we need this. The current division we are experiencing both politically and socially has become extreme and, in some instances, violent and even deadly. Yet, how do you create a national identity in a country where personal identity is more important?
I believe I have found how. It's called Humanism, it promotes the idea that every single man, woman and child deserves the protection of the state for the simple fact that they are human beings, without the ties of race, religion or national background. The philosophy places responsibility and the rights of the individual on the person that has them, it advocates equality and is synonymous with personal freedoms. What can be more American than freedom? A cultural shift towards humanism would provide the base we need in order to heal and unite our nation, it brings everyone down to a common denominator that we can all identify with, bridging the gap across politics, class, race, religion or national background. Humanism would open the dialogue to cooperation, because at the end of the day we all want the same basic thing, to live and prosper in peace, surrounded by those that we love. How we can achieve this is up for discussion, but is a discussion that we need to have outside of our personal beliefs, we need to see the other side of the argument—whatever that argument is—and approach that conversation from a place of equal respect and understanding that we are all people trying to figure out the best way to live.
At the end of the day, whatever you decide to be, we are all human. Now more than ever we need to promote humanism; a philosophy that can unite us, that we can evolve with. There is no more important time than now for the United States to find its humanity.