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.

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This article has 69 comments. Post your own now!

bree12 said...
Sept. 16, 2009 at 11:30 pm
what a nice and thoughtful article. You are very true about the working part but what you fail to understand is that we cant let every immigrant in the united states. our economy is rock bottom. if we let immigrants in, which we have which impacted our economy greatly, then we are spending billions of dollars for their healthcare ,schooling, housing and possibly welfare. Immigrants are granted free healthcare and also low cost housing. What about the millions of homeless across our "great nation... (more »)
Jigjoo This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Mar. 22, 2010 at 12:26 pm
Sadly, since there are many different kinds of people who haven't the slightest clue what they're doing with their money and, of course, price gougers (Gah, my eyes!!), there is virtually no chance at all for a stable economy in our country. *sigh* If only we could all play fair...
Electricity This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Aug. 16, 2009 at 2:13 pm
True, so true. I once asked my mother what a true American looks like (like French, Chinese, Russian... they all have particular features), and she said that America does not have particular features, because Americans come from other countries. I agree with this article, and I love it. Great job!
tweedle dee said...
Aug. 13, 2009 at 1:53 pm
jenny davis said the same thing i was thinking - immigrants are fine and dandy, i have no problem and i think they deserve the same chance our families had, but illegal aliens have no place here. if you want to be an american, do the paperwork and whatever you need to do, dont sneak into our country. also springcactus made an excelent point - i love my country and my family has been here for a loooooooong time. you cant tell me that somebody else loves it more just because they just immigrated. ... (more »)
JennyBean said...
May 11, 2009 at 11:17 pm
I do agree that immigrants are essential to this country, but I have to question the difference between immigrants and illegal aliens: although it would be kind to let everybody into the country, it's only fair that one must work to obtain the proper documentation; or else, if they come here illegally, US citizens end up paying for their education, healthcare, etc., and this takes a toll on the economy. You make a good point about immigrants building America, but there is a line between lett... (more »)
Springcactus said...
May 6, 2009 at 8:41 pm
nice article, but i do disagree about the 'immigrants love america more'. the timing doesn't change anything. america is my country now because i was born here, and if really loved the U.S., it wouldn't matter if I'd lived here for a year or a thousand years.
Hanna C. This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Nov. 21, 2009 at 10:38 am
I think the point was that there are plenty of people living in America who would rather live somewhere else, but anybody who comes to America has to want to live there. It's an active decision to come here rather than a passive decision to stay here. It's not so much that all natural-born citizens love America less (certainly not true), it's that a smaller percentage of them love America.
TeacherLady said...
Jan. 13, 2009 at 5:07 pm
This is an excellently written article. Very nice. :)
DarkRose18 replied...
Feb. 2, 2010 at 3:33 pm
This was a great article. I do not agree with the the sterotypes they put on people that immagrate into this country. They work hard just like any other human being.
Ive heard many stories from illegal aliens not one of them speaks of a simple or pleasurable trip. They make a big comitment to leaving theyre home, belongings, and theyre closest family members. Not only are they leaving many things behind but they come to nothing and no one waiting for them.
I all so think we shoul... (more »)
mutekid016 replied...
May 27, 2010 at 8:15 am
I think all of you need to chill about this immigrant issue. Not all natural born Americans want to leave, so don't say that. I have a father who served in the army in the Korean War and The Peruvian Gulf war. My brother wants to serve. So Americans have different opinions, don't hate on them.
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