The Meaning Behind the American Identity

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What does it mean to be a true American? This question has been asked many times when it comes to the topic of immigration. Americanization in itself is a mysterious aspect of our society. In the world today, everyone has his or her own identity but not everyone is accepted or considered American because he or she might stray from the American way. If the term un-American means someone who does not have the characteristics of or who is not constant with American customs, principles, or traditions, then how do we define an American? The controversy has interested many in the past 20 years. If a native-born American is not consistent with American customs, principles, or traditions, can we then call that person un- American even if he or she was born in the U.S.A? And who defines American customs and traditions? These are all questions that many tried to answer and that many theories are created about. So what is the definition of Americanization?

The first article, published in The Clearing House magazine in January 1999 by E.D. Hirsch Jr., called "Americanization and the Schools", talks about the Americanization of children. This article looks at the negative aspects of bilingual education of children. E.D. Hirsch Jr., talks about how bilingual education is only hurting the children and in effect is hurting the rest of the country. He calls the children "victims" of curricular incoherence. Also, the article states that the parents are just as much to blame as the schools. The article basically tries to deliver the message that Americanization is badly needed in our country today.

The second article published in the National Review on September 2, 1996 called "Anti- Americanization" by John D. Fonte, talks about the need for Americanization but from a different point of view. Here the article only states what actions have been taken by the U.S. government under the Clinton administration to encourage bilingual education and to downplay assimilation. Also John D. Fonte talks about the problems that have been caused by bilingual education. Also he talks about the process of becoming a US citizen and how this process today has altered because of the Americanization controversy.

The third article published in The Journal of American Culture in the Spring of 1997, is called "Ford's Sociology Department and the Americanization Campaign and the Manufacture of Popular Culture among Assembly Line Workers" by Clarence Hooker. In this article Hooker explains the reasoning behind Ford's profit-sharing plan and the affect it had on Ford's workers. Also this article contains information about the details that were important to Ford and why. Hooker, in addition to all the other information on Ford, including information about similar establishments like Ford's and how they were influenced by Ford's actions.

The article by John Fonte says that the goal of Americanization is to teach immigrants English and to make them Americans. This is the basic definition that most people have in mind when the term Americanization is used. In Clarence Hooker's article the term is defined by what Ford thought it meant. This definition was that Americanization is changing the way you live. Included in the definition are living conditions of the immigrants and the education that they and their children receive. And the article by Hirsch defines Americanization as a good English education. All of these articles define Americanization differently but the one thing that they have in common is that they all show that no one really knows what it means. Some describe Americanization as just a survival assimilation that all immigrants go through and other describe it as becoming "all-American".

The term "all-American" itself is defined by Webster's dictionary as "someone who is a quarterback in football, on a basketball team, composed of wholly American elements, representative or typical of the U.S. or its ideals, and of or relating to the American nations as a group." This definition in itself is not a clear or realistic picture of how people live in the world today. This definition mentions American elements but no one knows what those elements are. Ford had his own ideas about what those elements are and the government also has a different opinion on who is the "all-American". So how can someone go through the process people call "Americanization" and become "all-Americans" when know one knows what that is.

When immigrants come to America, they realize that they will live a different life style than they did back home. They knew that their first priority is to learn English. This is the process of Americanization, learning the language and being able to live and function in the new home. Now this process got complicated because certain people had their own extreme ideas. For example how the government feels that "Americanization" is taking away the cultural intelligence that immigrants have. The government is actually promoting bilingual education thinking that this will benefit the immigrants and the U.S. as a whole (Fonte). It is interesting that the government thinks that if they get rid of "Americanization" and doing things the "American" way, then cultural intelligence will be preserved. Also the school system has been in turbulence in the U.S. because some schools teach in English only and others follow the government and adopt bilingual education. This is creating many debates which are not of any benefit to anyone. The parents of the foreign children want their children to know and learn in English and the school boards feel that a child who is foreign will fall behind the rest of his or her class unless that child continues his or her education in the native tongue of his or her native country (Hirsch). All of these articles show that "Americanization" has been taken to the extreme when it is not necessary. People have begun to make up their own definitions of "Americanization", definitions that suit them personally.

Looking deeper into this issue, there is evidence that the "Americanization" process that is going on today and the way it is defined, is causing more trouble than needed. For example the Clinton Administration has been taking advantage of federal agencies against opponents of the government's anti-assimilation, and multi-lingual policies. This happened when the city council of Allentown, Pennsylvania, voted 6 to 1 to declare English the official language of their city. As a result "the Department of Housing and Urban Development warned that Allentown could lose federal funds if the city council did not repeal the ordinance" (Fonte 2). This is definitely an extreme on behalf of the government. Just because English was declared the official language, that does not mean that it will cause immediate "Americanization". If America used to be in favor of "Americanization", now they are split on the issue. This causes the rest of the nation to comply with the government's extreme ideas against "Americanization" or keep quiet. And no one is happy about it, not even the immigrants (Hirsch).

Another definition of "Americanization" that looks deeper into the meaning of the term is Ford's definition. Ford believed that one has been "Americanized" when he or she upgrades their living conditions to meet Ford's standards of cleanliness, education, and "cultural standards" (Hooker 2). In the beginning this looks good and seems like a good way to increase company profitability for Ford and also better the living conditions of Ford's immigrant workers. But if one takes a closer look, those immigrants were being robbed of their identities, their individualism and their heritage. Ford was trying to mold them into one perfect worker with a perfect family and perfect house (Hooker 2). This was wrong and unethical. Ford followed his own definition of "Americanization" and decided that if immigrants want to become Americans, then they should live solely by his standards.

The other definition of "Americanization" is plainly a good education of the English language (Hirsch). This definition seems to be the only one that comes close to the true idea of "Americanization". The problem that exists with this idea is that this kind of education is now being looked down on by the government (Fonte). The idea of bilingual education seems to be favored over an English education. Children are being taught math science and history in their native languages so they do not fall behind in their classes. The obvious negative side affect of this is that they are not learning English, they do not have any studies conducted in English. When these children will get out into the world, how will they discuss problems at work in English when they were only taught in, for example, Spanish? The problem stems from the fact that "For five decades, American schools had accepted the primacy of process over content, arguing that specific knowledge is almost irrelevant, whereas thinking skills are of paramount importance" (Hirsch 1). Is this how the nation is thinking? Can a teacher honestly say that it does not matter whether a child can carry a conversation in English as long as that child understands science in Spanish? If an "American" citizen or resident does not know how to speak English, can one still call that person an American? How did the country go from such strong and distorted views of "Americanization" to believing that it will have a negative impart on U.S.A?

The idea of "Americanization" has gotten so distorted that people don't know what to do anymore. Now someone is either extremely anti-Americanization, or extremely pro- Americanization. There is no existence of a middle ground and that middle ground is badly needed. Fonte's article shows how the government is going overboard to promote anti- Americanization by ignoring rules that they have created themselves. A good example being the citizenship test. This test was always of great importance to immigrants, now the citizenship test is being mocked by the people and the government (Fonte 3). "If we don't take citizenship seriously we don't take our constitutional democracy seriously" (Fonte 3). Plus the education system in this country is being turned into a huge debate "using children as pawns" (Hirsch 1). It seems that everybody has gotten so lost in trying to define "Americanization" and whether it is good or bad. I what they should be doing is concentrating on the affects their conclusions might have on young innocent children when it comes to education and the child's future.

In conclusion, I believe that "Americanization" is a term defined by the immigrants. It is their decision as to what degree they want to become "American". They can abandon all of their beliefs and take on American beliefs, or they can just learn English, become a citizen, get a job, and still follow the ways of their native country. As far as the government goes, the administration needs to calm down because they are causing the opposite affect on the country than originally intended. The three key elements which fall under this mysterious term "Americanization" are an American education, where one learns the language and the history, the citizenship test, and knowing and following the American laws. America as a country needs to slow down and look at what they are doing. The creation of Ebonics alone shows that the intelligence of the nation is declining. Why give options like Ebonics when an "all-American" would definitely be one to speak English. The U.S. is contradicting itself when it comes to "Americanization", whatever it means.

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The Meaning Behind the American Identity. (2022, Dec 14). Retrieved October 1, 2023 , from

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