American identity to me is a melting pot of perceptions, constantly changing and growing as I age each year. Growing up in Middle America my view of the country in which I was born was limited to corn fields and very dense patriotic views. Poor farmers alongside the Missouri river limited by yards and town confines, I was nine the first time I had met an African American and almost six-teen before I had met an Asian American. My perception of America was only that of poor white Americans. Grade school taught us that any one was able to come to America if they so desired and all they had to do was learn about our way of life, without being taught that there was anything different, it was hard to imagine that anyone would have much to learn at all. My journey into adult hood has taught me that all Americans have something to learn about our way of life.
Discovering that I was queer at the age of fifteen forced me to separate myself from the views and perceptions that were being offered. Suddenly, and without my own effort, I started to question what was being taught in our schools. I started to look for differences in the people around me and started asking questions about different religions and cultures. Unknowingly, I was really trying to find something that I could relate to, something that represented my own American experience. I became very interested in the minority experience in America and once was asked to leave the class room when I argued with my history teacher about George Washington owning slaves. In America, it seemed, differences though regarded as good in the long term, are usually treated as bad in the short term, which would become painstakingly clear in my years to come.
Though some might argue that being an American or pursing the American dream doesn't always pay off, it was being an American with a need for support that led me to the resources I needed to emancipate myself from my parents at the age of sixteen and again America that provided me with food and housing on a month to month basis thereafter. Through the work of a social justice system I was able to get a case manager that provided me with the skills I needed to work full time and finish school in a more metropolitan area. There I started meet people that not only represented me but also other persons who had varied backgrounds and histories different from my own. With access to media for the first time in my life, other countries and other views become readily available. Watching television news outlets and listening to political debates on public radio, my perception of America started to change dramatically as new ideas were introduced to me.
America started to wage war on other countries as I approached the age of twenty and my view of what it meant to be an American wasn't so great anymore. The land that had provided for me, raised me, clothed me, housed me, and educated me started to, as I saw it, take those opportunities away from other persons, by removing their lives. It was confusing to me, that America, which had held me so close, became so quick to desire me to leave this country, go to another, and destroy other's way of life for an imperialistic desire. It was America, again, that told me after meeting me in its drafting offices, which told me I wasn't equal in the eyes of the army and was disqualified because of my different "lifestyle". I couldn't even unwillingly serve the country that denied equal opportunity. America suddenly went from a friend to an enemy and I joined anarchist mailing list, wishing I could change the way they thought. Fueled by my anger, I withdrew my love for this country and wished to be somewhere else.
America started to open herself up to me over time and our relationship, again, took another turn. I started to travel and see outside from my window the houses in-between America, the concrete that glues us all together. My faith in America started to grow again as I met couples, single people, the elderly, wayward travelers, lesbians, adopted families of other citizens and the like. Each traveler would share their life story, thereby sharing their own American experience. With freedom and the pursuit of happiness, each person or persons, shared their mistakes and misfortunes and adventures to come. Outside the windows of my traveling vehicle of choice I started to see, first hand, the different ways of living in this country. I started to realize that though America could be unfair and discriminatory, it could also still be a place of dreams and opportunity. My experience of America started to widen even further as I started to discover hope.
I started to learn about the way America works shortly after moving to San Francisco. I joined different groups that represented my own experience and started to understand that there was hope for change. All it took, it seemed, was other persons of the same experience combining their ideas and discussing them in a group. I volunteered for a local assemblyman and started to see first hand how this change is implemented. Placed at a desk in an office all day, I read letter after letter written by Americans offering their ideas into this melting pot, hoping for change and representation. Sometimes a letter would be so moving it was passed onto the assemblyman's office right away for his review, where he would contemplate an idea of his voters and respond personally to their concern. The assemblyman became a great source of inspiration and influence as he hadn't been an active member of government when he was younger. He was drawn to the idea of change and the idea of hope.
Even now, my idea of American Identity changes on a day to day basis, with our without noticing it. Two years ago I ended a relationship because my lover wanted to move into a communal living space that practiced open relationships. Now, I run a communal living space and just recently attended a rally for sex workers right to receive health insurance from their production companies. My views of the way other people live their lives and represent their own American identity changes as my own American experience greatens itself. There is the American identity that other countries or other citizens might see and some of those identities might be positive or negative and even worse, true, but American identity within America is only the reality of the people living it. Americans can be greedy, fun, irresponsible, generous, accountable, or even terrifying, but the experience each American has makes his or her American identity. Each citizen of this country is the make up his or her neighbor, which is why my American identity changes with each year of my life as I experience the identities of my fellow citizens.