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  • Trish MacEnulty

What it means to be an American


Born and raised in the United States, I am quintessentially American. My ancestors on my mother’s side came over on the Mayflower. Yes, they fought with the indigenous people. They believed in witchcraft. At least one was a horse thief, one was a corrupt alcoholic judge, and one ran away from his wife and child to be a failed actor. And according to one very distant relative, some of them may have owned slaves though they did not live in the south or own plantations. To be an American means that your history is not antiseptic by any means. It means that your people may have been less than upright individuals.

On my father’s side, we were Irish, escaping famine and poverty and British oppression for a better life. My paternal grandfather embodied the American dream. His own father was a street sweeper in Pittsburgh. My grandfather grew up to become the president of a company and live in a mansion on Long Island. The next generation, in true American fashion, lost every bit of money the old man had earned.

My name is Patricia Bartlett MacEnulty. My last name comes from my Irish ancestors — Mac, meaning offspring, of Enulty, a man from Ulster. But my middle name is a family name from my mother’s side. I am named after a new Hampshire man named Josiah Bartlett who signed an amazing document. A document that states: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

I want you to know that I don’t claim the title of “American” because of any bloodline or because of the place I was born, a brick hospital on the St. John’s River in Jacksonville, Florida. I claim the title because of a state of mind that I inhabit — a state of mind in which the belief that every one is created equal is so deeply ingrained in me that I cannot imagine bowing before another person simply because of some title they inherited. A state of mind which means that I am most comfortable in melting pots. Put me in a room full of people who have different backgrounds, different colors of skin, different accents. and I couldn’t be more at home. A state of mind which tells me that a baby born on one side of an arbitrary line is no more or less valuable than a baby born on the other side of that line.

I love patriotic music. I get a little teary-eyed when I hear the national anthem, and I always put my hand over my heart. And I love the sight of our flag rippling in the wind. But let’s be clear. I feel no allegiance to that piece of cloth or even to a piece of land. I feel allegiance to an idea — a single idea: that every single being on this planet is endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. I believe that you can be born in Zimbabwe and be an American. I believe that no one deserves better treatment than another because of their name, their origin, whom they choose to love, or for crying out loud the color of their skin. This, to me, is what it means to be an American.

It is not about the place your feet occupy. It is about the place where your heart resides. This place is not limited by borders, by languages, or by superficial physical differences. In this place we are one. One giant humanity. I am proud to be an American.


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