Op-Ed: Yes, I am an American

Just because someone does not look like a stereotypical American, it does not mean they are not American.

During the summer, a U?S. Congressman mistook two U.S. government officials testifying before the House Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific as representatives of the Government of the Republic of India. 

When I heard about this, I rolled my eyes and thought, "the same thing has happened to me multiple times." Just because those two government officials looked Indian, someone assumed that they were Indian.

Wrong. They were Americans. 

I was born and raised here in America. My parents came from India to the US in the 1980s to pursue higher education. They became citizens in 2000. Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, I never felt like an outcast. The town where I went to elementary school did not have many minorities; I was one of the few there. The high school I went to had lots of diversity. My upbringing led me to the belief that I strongly believe in today: America is a mosaic. We all have different origins, but we are one people. As the United States seal says, E Pluribus Unum.

Coming to AU, however, I came across many situations where I felt like I was being treated as an outsider in my own country.

For instance, people have asked me the trite question, “Where are you really from?” even after I tell them I am from the Chicago suburbs. Or when they hear me say that I am from “Indiana” they glance at me and say, “Oh, you are from India.” 

Just because I look different doesn’t mean I am a foreigner. 

Once when I was at a job and internship fair at AU, I stopped at a table for a government agency to inquire about internships. The Human Resources representative asked me a couple times if I was an American citizen, even after she glanced at my resume. To reduce stereotyping because of my name, I had actually put in parentheses (U.S. Citizen) by name.

Before coming to AU, I had never felt such treatment and scrutiny. Situations such as these and many others have frustrated me, and made me wonder why people think this way. What makes me so different than someone who “looks American?” I grew up in this country, have voted in every election ever since becoming of age and always strived to be a good citizen. Why do I have to be treated as an outsider? Why should anyone be subjected to this?

But I tell myself that I should not feel frustrated or angry. We all have different experiences and levels of exposure. In writing this editorial I am trying to raise awareness of the fact that yes, someone may not look like a stereotypical American, but may be indeed an American citizen. 

Are there worse problems out there in society? Yes. Do other people have it worse? Yes. However, I want to raise awareness to this issue of identity that I have faced. We must not forget that America is changing, and we must change with it. We must accept this change.  Every step I take in telling someone who asks me “Where are you really from,” that I am from America, I feel that I am breaking down a barrier and spreading a bit of understanding. 

Regardless of who someone is, foreigner, American or global citizen alike, we should always treat them the way we want to be treated. Yes, I do have origins from India, we all have origins from somewhere, but overall, I am an American.

Sameer Chintamani is a sophomore in the School of International Service.

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