American: the Identity We Dream to Have

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“Let us remember we are all part of one American family. We are united in common values, and that includes belief in equality” as quoted by former president Barack Obama.

Obama’s quote emphasizes the meaning of what it means to be American and the values that are a part of it. The excerpt from Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is about a Nigerian born immigrant named Ifemelu who is experiencing her first year in America, blogging about her encounters. Citizen Illegal by José Olivares is about life as a first generation Mexican immigrant living in America. Adichie and Olivares’ works both reveal different perspectives of what it means to be American, describing what it’s like living in the United States as an immigrant.

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To begin with, the poem Citizen Illegal depicts the struggles of being a child of an illegal immigrant family living in the U.S. An example of this is when Olivares references if a child is light skinned he is considered a citizen but if not he is dark he is considered illegal. Two illegal parents have a baby but, “If they have a baby and the baby looks white enough to pass (citizen)”. The color of someone’s skin should not determine if they are considered American. If a baby is born in the United States, despite the parents, they should be considered a citizen. The child shouldn’t have to suffer being labeled as illegal just because they are born to illegal parents. They should be treated as equal to the white man. Families from different backgrounds around the world just want the best for their children to become successful. Furthermore, Olivares talks about a more grown-up immigrant child going to an American school. The boy begins to go to school, “His classmates are American (citizen). He is outcast (illegal)”. Since the boy is not American and does not have American traits like his classmates, he is seen as an outcast in society. It is not acceptable to judge someone so quickly due to the language they speak, for the boy in school he struggles to communicate with his classmates since he can only speak Spanish. Most of the children would see him as different and probably wouldn’t accept him for who he is. Both pieces of evidence refer back to the idea of what it means to be American by putting the reader in the shoes of a Mexican immigrant coming to the U.S. for the first time, depicting the struggles faced for the family and child. It brings in the question of am I more American or more Mexican. To conclude, Olivares shares his idea of what America means to him and wants others to know what it is like for children of immigrant families.

To begin with, the excerpt from Americanah describes a college students encounters and realizations while she lives in the United States. A good example is when Ifemelu notices how Americans around her in the city were mostly black and fat. Ifemelu didn’t think of them as being fat, “She thought of them as big because one of the first things her friend Ginika told her was fat in America is a bad word”(Adichie 4). Ifemelu is very observant of the people around her, when she notices that Americans are overweight she is somewhat confused and thinks that Americans are just fat. Her friend Ginika even told her a single story of how the word fat is considered a bad word since it depicts the reality of a truly American identity. Another good example is when Ifemelu becomes homesick and thinks more about her home country of Nigeria. She began to look up Nigerian websites and found that “each click brought yet another story of a young person who had recently moved back home to start an investment company, fashion label or fast food franchise”. Ifemelu is disappointed by how successful people who moved back to Nigeria have become, unlike her wishing she lived a life full of success as well. After finding out about the Nigerian success stories it causes Ifemelu to become more homesick, wanting to return from America back to Nigeria. Both pieces of evidence relate to the concept of American identity by showing how America is pictured as the place of great fortune and successful people, however, as a Nigerian immigrant Ifemelu didn’t see that in America. She saw racist and obese people as well as finding out that in Nigeria she can still be successful. She identified as being more Nigerian than American despite living in America. Overall, Ifemelu’s perception of America does portray somewhat the reality of America, anyone can become successful if they have the correct mindset, Ifmelu didn’t identify as American which leads her to the idea of going back to Nigeria.

Throughout both authors’ works, the concept of American Identity is portrayed from the viewpoint of two different immigrant’s perspectives. Adichie and Olivares have different stories to tell about American Identity and how it can either help shape us into a better person or destroy us into believing you are an outcast in society. Everyone wants to be treated fairly and with respect, having equality. Barack Obama’s quote effectively tied into the two articles, Americanah and Citizen Illegal, we are all united despite our backgrounds and just want the best for ourselves to become successful.

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