“What kind of American do you want to be?”
Every year around America’s Independence Day – a.k.a., July Fourth – I ask myself this question.
The history of the United States includes some bad chapters, like slavery and gender discrimination. It also includes admirable things like technological innovation, freedom of speech and the “American Dream” – where anyone can make something of themselves if they can a) get there and b) work hard.
But, where are we now? Who are we now?
Almost every taxi driver I meet in Singapore asks what I think of President Trump and the state of America. So, as an American expat here, I have to think about this fairly regularly.
Admittedly, I’m having trouble answering those questions lately – with our President bullying our northern neighbour Canada and traditional European allies with trade tariffs and Twitter insults, as well as his administration’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy that has drawn criticism for inhumane treatment at the southern border.
Then, of course, there’s the American economy, which is doing quite well – with near-record unemployment and businesses reporting strong earnings. Potential trade wars make America look greedy and isolationist. But, Trump was the presidential candidate who promised to give US businesses more fair “deals”, and he did win the election, after all.
While I may not totally support this administration, I do follow my own sports-playing advice: “Just because I don’t like the captain, doesn’t mean I quit the team.” And, when I’m feeling cynical or discouraged, I just try to return my original question: “What kind of American do I want to be?” Because, really, the only thing any of us can control is our own personal behaviour. Plus, I can still vote by mail ballot!
So, the kind of American I want to be is a compassionate American, who feels the pain in the photos of immigrant children separated from their parents by a chain link fence, or wants to support the working class’s right to jobs and healthcare. I want everyone to be happy within the construct of maintaining liberty and freedom for our people.
I want to be a tolerant American, who can look at both sides of the story and try to understand where the two ends can come together. I make exceptions to that rule for issues involving white supremacists or neo-Nazis, who don’t want to let gay people get married or adopt children. I just can’t get my head around their hateful rhetoric. And, I don’t think I have to. Thankfully, those people aren’t in the majority.
I want to be a nicer version of an American, as seen by people outside our country. As an expat, I often feel like I have to dispel the stereotype of the loud, selfish, obnoxious, “stupid” American. I have learned to sit back and listen more and not automatically give my opinion, which is a very American thing to do. (To be fair to myself and to note a potential hypocrisy, I am regularly asked my opinion on all of this!) I’m not perfect, but I continue to work on myself.
Nowadays, I’m listening and reading more about what it’s like to be a black American or Native American, a conservative American or even a communist American. I’m also learning first-hand what it’s like to live in Asia with the threat of North Korean nuclear attacks and China’s bid to control the South China Sea. I’m listening to what America’s potential trade tariffs will do to the global economy, and what the impact may be on the Singapore community in which I live.
Overall, I’m doing my best to be the best American that I can be: holding onto my current ideals, yet keeping my mind open. As America continues to evolve as a country, I shall continue to evolve as a citizen, even in absentia.
Wherever you are from, you might want to ask yourself who you want to be, too – and let’s see if we can all find some common ground as global citizens. At the end of the day, we all have to share one world.
About Andrea McKenna Brankin
Andrea McKenna Brankin is a journalist and author from the United States who lives a full life with bipolar disorder. Her book, Bipolar Phoenix, is awaiting a publishing contract. She is also currently a volunteer at the DaySpring Residential Treatment Centre for teen girls in Singapore, providing befriending-family support, therapeutic writing and rugby coaching.
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