The question stayed with me. It was so simple, so direct, yet it had been asked so many other ways before. One of my writing project colleagues asked it of university students, but I couldn't wait to get it into my high school curriculum. There were so many places it would fit. the wait would not be long.
About a week later, during my unit on the American Dream /nightmare in 20th century literature, the opening came. The key to the lock was a small op-ed piece by an Asian American that also happened to be accompanied by a picture of Olympic champion Michele Kwan.
The piece detailed how a TV reporter momentarily forgot that Kwan was an American and then went on to explain and illustrate the author's plight being misjudged the same way. Hence the question:
Do You Consider Yourself an American?
I had my class respond anonymously to the question and then shared some of their statements with surprising results. My students did and did not consider themselves Americans. Whether they were in fact American citizens did not matter. A few had bizarre notions of what and who had the right t consider themselves Americans. Notions of race, skin color, religion, eye color, nationality.
It occurred to me that these notions exist mightily today. I saw a woman interviewed on the local news yesterday about the current immigration/refugee crisis involving Central American children at the border. She kept referring to them as Mexicans (not true) and in a few words managed to unfurl all the feat and ignorance so prevalent today. She certainly considered herself an American...on her terms.
Sometimes I wish I could intervene and remind people like this that the very land they are standing on, living on, all belonged to Mexico not all that long ago. I know they don't know that, but did they ever?
What if American citizenship were a renewable requirement to "consider" yourself an American? Then people like that self-righteous, ignorant, arrogant woman would have to be accountable for their knowledge about what an American really is and what it really means.