How American do you have to be, to be American enough?

Monday it was apparently somewhat newsworthy that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will be tried and charged as an American in civilian court and not as an enemy combatant in military court, “under the law of war” , where he would not have the right to a lawyer.   This does indeed make sense considering he is an American and there is no sound evidence that the bombings were to further a political or social objective, as described in the U.S. governments description of domestic terrorism.  Was this same statement newsworthy in the cases of Adam Lanza, Jared Loughner, James Holmes, Eric Harris,  Eric Rudolph, or Timothy McVeigh?  All of whom were white males of Christian religious identity, with names that sound of western European descent; none of whom could be tried under military commissions either, because they are Americans, too.  You can see an effective photo of this information here.

As I read op-ed discussions on this piece of information, it made me wonder once again, how American do you have to be, to be American enough to be treated as an American?  I am amazed at how readily people accept the blurring of the law here and there for the sake of the “war on terror”.

Our own twice-elected president has had to deal with the ridiculous indignity of having his citizenship questioned because of his name, his family heritage, and his appearance.   If you don’t fit the media-mandated norm, having your rights observed can feel like getting special treatment.

I’m a brown woman and I grew up in rural northern Minnesota.  My whole life I’ve been asked where I’m from.  If I say that I’m from Minnesota, or say I’m from my hometown, 9 times out of 10 the person asking will respond with, oh, no, I mean, where are you really from.  When I travel internationally, people in other countries also ask me where I am from.  When I answer that I am American, they laugh, or look confused, or respond by saying no, no, where are you really  from?  Chinese?  Oh, I know, I know, Japanese!?  And I guess I understand.  When they see the U.S. in the media, they see predominantly white people portrayed as your average Americans.

So I’ve been thinking of a checklist or point system for what it takes to be American enough, because if you’ve only been American for awhile,  or you’re only kind of American, it doesn’t really count…or it’s like, you only get part of your rights, or, your rights are subject to the whims of the law enforcers…or?

Okay, let’s see, so to be American enough you need to meet certain criteria:

How American Are You Checklist Point System:

1. Name: Western European names are best—something not too generic like Johnson, though that works just fine, but nothing too crazy like Tsarnaev or Hussein (See Barack Obama). (2pts western European, 1pt sorta western European sounding, 0pts for names that are hard to pronounce or obviously terrorist-sounding.)

2. Length of Citizenship: This one is tricky.  Best is to be born here, but that’s no guarantee (see Barack Obama).  Continental U.S. is better (See Barack Obama).  About a year is not long enough evidently, even if you have lived in the U.S. a decade.  Hmm.  Would 20 years be long enough? (2pts if born in continental U.S., 1pt if born in the other places of the U.S.,  0pts if you were not born here but got lucky and received your citizenship some other way.)

 3. Family Heritage:  Well, to be most American, you would think American Indians would win this category hands down.  They’ve been here the longest, but… yeah.  Next probably the Pilgrim lineage, then the Mayflower, or wait, Ferdinand Magellan headed here from Portugal, or the Italian Columbus, though I think they were both beat by the Norse Leif Ericson.   Let’s just say western European is the most American way to go, though I’m not sure how many of those countries would like to claim that title these days. (2pts for western European, 1pt for American Indians, 0pts for everywhere else.)

4. Appearance:  It does appear that being brown will lose you points in being American enough. (2pts if you’re non-brown, minus 2pts for being brown).

5. Religion: Try to go Christian of some kind, Jewish if you have to.  Being Muslim definitely is going to lose you points. (2pts Christian, 1pt Jewish, 0pt Athiests, Buddists, Hindus, Shamans, etc, minus 2pts for being Muslim)

6. Socioeconomic/Cultural Appearance: Try to look middle-class or so.  Don’t wear clothing that is too bright or wacky.  Try something from the Gap or Old Navy.  And don’t put anything on your head but a baseball cap, or a cowboy hat if you really have to, or, okay,  if you’re going to a summer music festival.  (2pts traditional middle-class garb, 1pt semi-traditional—tattooed, pierced, mohawk “interesting-looking” in anyway, minus 2pts for traditional clothing of any religions except forms of Christianity.)

So, how many points do I receive as an American Korean-Adoptee using this point system?

1. Name: Mm, 2pts?  When I was adopted my Korean name was discarded and I was renamed with a western European name.  Throughout my life I have dealt with the surprised confusion on the faces of  people who see my name before my face, such as teachers at school and in job interviews.  In recent years I have added my omma’s surname to my western surname, so there is at least a heads up now (haha) that a Korean face is headed your way.  So maybe that’s 1pt?

2. Length of Citizenship:  I was naturalized sometime in middle school, 6th or 7th grade?  So that would mean I’ve been an American for about 25 years or so, though I was a “resident alien” from the age of 4.  So, 0pts.

3. Family Heritage:  0pts for being born in Korea, a.k.a. elsewhere, not in the U.S.  Do I get any points for my western-European adoptive-family?  No, not in this system.

4. Appearance:  Minus 2pts for being brown

5. Religion: 0pts for being athiest

6. Socioeconomic/Cultural Appearance:  Well, I recently learned that my twenty-something neighbors call me “JCrew Mom”, so I guess that puts me firmly in the middle-class aesthetic, nevermind my disappointment at fully realizing that I actually have gotten older, or more square, or something, despite my efforts.  Sigh. Moving on.  That’s 2pts then, eh? 

Tally: 1, 0, 0, -2, 0, 2= 1pt out of a possible 12pts. 

I only got one point on that checklist point system.  Does that mean I’m about .085% American enough?

Is that American enough?  How American do you have to be, to be American enough to be treated as an American?

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One Response to How American do you have to be, to be American enough?

  1. Jeff Nguyen says:

    I scored two points, I guess I’m more American than you are. 🙂

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