In Defense Of Immigrants

At the very heart of the American idea is the notion that, unlike in other places, we can start from nothing and through hard work have everything. That nothing we can imagine is beyond our reach. That we will pull up stakes, go anywhere, do anything to make our dreams come true. But what if that’s just a myth? What if the truth is something very different? What if we are…stuck?

I. What does it mean to be an American?

Full disclosure: I’m British. Partial defense: I was born on the Fourth of July. I also have made my home here, because I want my teenage sons to feel more American. What does that mean? I don’t just mean waving flags and watching football and drinking bad beer. (Okay, yes, the beer is excellent now; otherwise, it would have been a harder migration.) I’m talking about the essence of Americanism. It is a question on which much ink—and blood—has been spent. But I think it can be answered very simply: To be American is to be free to make something of yourself. An everyday phrase that’s used to admire another (“She’s really made something of herself”) or as a proud boast (“I’m a self-made man!”), it also expresses a theological truth. The most important American-manufactured products are Americans themselves. The spirit of self-creation offers a strong and inspiring contrast with English identity, which is based on social class. In my old country, people are supposed to know their place. British people, still constitutionally subjects of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, can say things like “Oh, no, that’s not for people like me.” Infuriating.

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