“Do you feel American?” This is the question my host mother, Valeri, asked during dinner one night. We were in a nice, family-owned restaurant sitting next to a fireplace, eating gnocchi and drinking wine. I had been expressing my amazement at being able to experience such wonderful food and scenery (we were in the mountains) seeing as how I had come from a lower-class neighborhood surrounded by nothing but cornfields and soybean factories in the Midwest. That’s when Valeri asked me this question. I thought for a bit, but was unsure of how to answer. What does it mean to feel American?
To be honest, I rarely think about my nationality when I travel. [SN: Sometimes I worry that this failure to acknowledge my nationality stems from the same idea that makes people unaware of their racial or class privilege. ] I believe it is possible to be aware of your nationality and its influence on you, but I’m not so sure if the same can be said for America. Maybe it’s because sometimes it feels as if we don’t really have a distinct culture other than what has been molded and exported by Hollywood and other popular media outlets. And unless you come from a family of first- or second-generation immigrants, you are less likely to have any cultural ties that meld with your overall identity.
Then again, we are a diverse country and our influence is just as so, which explains the difficulty in characterizing our country’s image. We are not just a melting pot of races, but also of cultures. Our food, our music, our traditions are all a multicultural blend that we are exposed to everyday.
So, I guess, when I think about what it means to feel American, I imagine a feeling of freedom and opportunism. The freedom to express whatever culture you identify with, and the opportunity to experience whatever culture that interests you. An American could mirror that of an Italian just as easily as it could a Korean.
However, this is only my opinion. I have always had trouble defining American culture, other than validating some well-known stereotypes. [And when someone asks me about feeling like an American, I assume they’re asking if I eat fast food and like big cars.] What about you? How would you define American culture? Do you think it is possible to feel your race or nationality?