What Is An American? This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

November 6, 2008
When I asked my father this question, he laughed and shook his head. I have a knack for asking the hard ones. But as our nation struggles with the issue of illegal immigration, we don’t bother to ask this of ourselves.

The first time this question occurred to me was while I was watching “American Idol” a few years ago. A beautiful Russian performer was struggling to get her green card. The judges loved her but rejected her all the same. My mother said it was because they wanted an American idol. I blinked and asked her, “What’s more American than an immigrant?” She sighed.

Every single American citizen is an immigrant, even Native Americans, who came across the Bering Strait thousands of years ago. Homo sapiens originated in Africa, and every other place we settled we were strangers, right? But the United States is unique because it once welcomed all immigrants. The majority of Americans have ancestors who came over barely a hundred years ago. My earliest family immigrated scarcely three generations ago. And so we must ask ourselves: is it right to deny entrance to people who, like our ancestors, want to make a new home and are willing to work for the opportunities we have?

If you really think about it, the people who risk life and limb to come to our country have a higher opinion of U.S. ideals than a lot of us do. Their ancestors have lived in the same place for hundreds of years, perhaps more. Can you imagine the courage it takes to leave all that behind?

Furthermore, we owe immigrants a lot. For example, our fresh produce is cultivated by migrant workers, a harvest picked in shame. I ­believe the very least we can do is grant them citizenship, minimum wage, and schooling for their children. In addition to some of the more skilled jobs immigrants do, we take many advantages for granted – aisles of produce, janitors at fast-food restaurants – that are made possible by the people some scorn and wish to remove from our country.

Some say if we let everyone in, we won’t have room. We’re the third-largest country on the planet. There’s room, and immigration is happening regardless. Let’s screen for criminals but let others in. After all, can’t we share Thanksgiving with the laborers who have more than earned their wages?

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

Join the Discussion

This article has 69 comments. Post your own now!

eshaansoman said...
Mar. 15, 2017 at 8:13 pm
great piece!
SlowNimes7 said...
Jan. 20, 2014 at 11:55 pm
Awesome point!
Peacemakerz said...
Nov. 20, 2013 at 8:46 pm
   You bring the struggles of many "immigrant Americans,"  to life describing the lack of appreciation. In my opinion, there is no such thing as being American or Russian or Asian (not trying to be racist here) or for that matter any of the races.  This is because, none of us are full or solid American. We all have a mix, even if you think your pure Russian. There is destined to be a little bit of off Russian, if you know what I mean.         &nb... (more »)
RelativetoWriting This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Aug. 5, 2013 at 10:22 am
This is so true! You make wonderful points; America is founded on immagration. I will think about this a lot after reading your article. Spectacular work!
dannysanchez910 said...
Oct. 17, 2012 at 10:39 am
Racism is having no heart </3 Ima Mexicanoo xD
tank said...
Aug. 1, 2012 at 12:52 pm
very good, and well said but the sad thing is that there is another reallity, our national security is at risk, terroist are in the southern border, and we can welcome immigrants like me but we should account for them and allow our borders and our laws to be respected.
*beautiful*spirit* This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Dec. 2, 2011 at 7:42 am
Our country was built upon the backs of so many immigrants. The United States is country is essentially a melting pot---a diverse population is one thing that makes our country truly unique. An American has no typical appearance; there are African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Italian-Americans, the list goes on and on. Good job!
RealisticWoman replied...
Dec. 7, 2011 at 8:50 pm
An American is one who was born in the United States of America. An immigrant is one who applies to become a citizen of our nation. An illegal immigrant is one who enters our nation without permission such as a brother enter's an elder sister's room without askance. We should provide the immigrants with all the opportunities that home born babies have. However, any illegal immigrant should be cast out, if not imprisioned in another country as we are still not going to put up with invaders even i... (more »)
Jersey replied...
Jan. 26, 2012 at 8:13 pm
We are all illegal immigrants. The "pilgrims" were illegal immigrants. They stole native lands and massacred the people who lived here. My grandfather came here without any type of visa. Those of us who were born here are simply claiming possession of a land that is not ours and denying rights to others so they can be exploited and abused. Don't like "illegal" immigrants, then stop eating any produce, or eating in restaurants, or getting your car washed, etc., etc....
RealisticWoman replied...
Jan. 27, 2012 at 4:55 pm
Please. The pilgrims were here because they believed no one lived here. Illegal immigrants today have knowledge that lots of people live in America. If you want to drudge up human history, then you might as well say that the countries over in Europe don't have a right to those lands they have because they massacred the people who lived there in the first place.
triple-p replied...
Oct. 19, 2016 at 1:26 pm
@jersey The natives had no immigration policies. Everybody who came was legal, and look where that got them.
MissyMayBelle said...
Nov. 23, 2011 at 7:55 pm
(That was supposed to be a new comment Sorry!!)
selenagfan said...
Nov. 19, 2011 at 10:42 am
The thing is, not everyone wanting to come into this country so bad isn't a good person. They'll just be bums and not work at all. Think of african-americans. We set them free a long time ago from slaves but they aren't thanking us very much are they.
MissyMayBelle replied...
Nov. 23, 2011 at 7:54 pm
I totally agree!! My own grandparents are immigrants from Canada (wow, I know) and my mom is one of the first in her family to be born in the U.S. I think that coming from many different backgrounds is what defines an American. Thank you fro writing this!
ChickenLegHouse replied...
May 7, 2013 at 12:04 am
Yes, they were set free after we inslaved them, should they thank us for that?
gurlygurl123 replied...
Aug. 19, 2014 at 1:28 pm
We shouldn't have to thank you becuase you guys shouldn't have ebslaved us in the first place should yo? you could have just done the work yourselfs.
daughterofeve14 said...
Oct. 29, 2011 at 1:13 pm
I dont agree that Native Americans are immigrants. Im full Native American. And yes, I agree except for the Native American thing. Weve been around for centuries I think. 
daughterofeve14 replied...
Oct. 29, 2011 at 1:21 pm
Sorry, I didnt mean that comment. I typed the wrong thing. /: Sorry, I meant to say Im almost full Native American and I kinda agree with you but I kinda dont. 
LaTutus13 said...
Oct. 13, 2011 at 1:42 pm
Wow. You expressed your idea very clearly. I love this article! :)
NeeleyLeigh said...
Aug. 10, 2011 at 12:15 pm
YOU ARE TRULY BRILLIANT. I have fallen in love with this article.
bRealTime banner ad on the left side
Site Feedback