what does it mean to be an

Ruba - charlotte, North Carolina
Entered on June 16, 2008

I believe that I don’t have to be born in the United States to be American.

Last year, eleventh grade, the first day of my English class, I remember my teacher asking the class, “What does it mean to be an American?” That question had a sound that rusted in my ear. Most everybody answered that to be an American you must be born in America and live there.

A part of me quietly disagreed: I’d been living in America for eight years and already had an American citizenship. Yet I had never felt “American.” So I helplessly agreed with everybody else, but I felt the deeper meaning to that question.

I felt that my cultural identity set me apart from most Americans: I followed Arabic traditions, and ate Arabic food. But the thing that most reminded me of my cultural identity was my Dad’s accent. I felt like an outsider in this country where I didn’t belong.

Then, one summer changed my life for good. School ended, and I passed all my classes. I was ready for my senior year when my dad surprised me with a vacation to Syria during the summer. I was excited to again see the places I remembered and dreamed about since childhood: the high mountains I stared at until I felt lost, the mysterious attraction of Syrian nights, and ancient walls that told their stories through colorful murals depicting times long past.

My vacation wasn’t as I expected. I saw what I was too little to understand eight years ago: discrimination against women, political repression. I was surrounded by wrongs that forced me to rethink how I felt about where I was from. It was important for me to see both the beauty and ugliness of my country.

I was born in a Middle Eastern land that instilled in me its valuable culture and astounding beauty. At the same time I’m raised in America, I go to an American school and I have many American beliefs and values. I hang out with my friends and like American cheese. Most importantly what shapes my mind is my American dream. I’m going to college to finish my education. I will not get married at fifteen and have a baby at seventeen.

I am my own individual and I have an opinion; therefore, I am an American.