When One Isn’t Enough: Duality of Identity in Modern America

"My understanding of “Americanness,” in its most essential form, is intimately rooted in the American spirit, which is borne out of a shared perception of equal opportunity and also doubles as a symbolic refuge for a range of cultures and peoples."

Born and raised in Southern California, I was exposed to an array of diverse cultures early in my childhood. During that period, one in which I believe I was particularly susceptible to and influenced by my surroundings, a lot of my friends were primarily people of color (POC). At the time, as with most innocent children who lacked an understanding of race in America, I did not think much of it. I simply went to school and hung out with my friends. In the years following, my group of friends gradually transitioned from one heavy with Black- and Hispanic-Americans into one heavy with Asian-Americans. However, there is something I have wondered to myself, especially recently, that touches on the seemingly amorphous nature of contemporary American identity and its implications.

My understanding of “Americanness,” in its most essential form, is intimately rooted in the American spirit, which is borne out of a shared perception of equal opportunity and also doubles as a symbolic refuge for a range of cultures and peoples. At its core, it is a beacon, signifying that individuals from anywhere can come to America to chase the “American Dream” and to just be. Naturally, when entering a cosmopolitan society such as the United States, people must adapt, to an extent, in order to assimilate and become socialized with American values and ideals. Depending upon one’s immediate surroundings, adaptation can manifest in a multitude of ways. Speech, behaviors, preferences, and even attitudes and values can all be subject to the social pressure to transition from an out-group to an in-group. In my case, growing up primarily with non-Asian POC during my childhood, I instinctively internalized attributes that normally would not be characterized as Asian. Over time, they fused and eventually emerged as idiosyncrasies. Yet curious stares and imprudent questions suggest there is an enduring incongruency between my personality and the perceptions that result from whatever colored lens some typically view Asian-Americans with.

“It also seems as if there is a prevailing habit of defining one’s American identity by adding White-, Black-, Hispanic-, or Asian- to it. In some cases, the prefix is all that is expressed and the American part seems to disappear altogether.”