Are You Proud to Be an American?

By Robine Jean-Pierre

In a modern, globalized world, “Where are you from?” is a very common question to encounter. Oddly enough, I have remarked that when people ask it, they usually mean, “What is your ethnicity?” or “What are your roots?” rather than “What is your nationality?” or “Where were you born (and raised)?”

Because of this double meaning, some would answer, “I’m from here [America]” (which would often elicit a face-palm or a “no, that’s not what I meant”), but many would more readily respond, “I’m from Jamaica” or “I’m Mexican” or “I’m Italian,” even though they were all born and raised here, on U.S. soil; some have never even been to their respective “motherlands.”

Growing up, I had a hard time answering this question because I did not know the correct response. Am I Haitian? In terms of nationality, no, because I was born here. Am I American? Yes, but if you were to trace back my lineage, even by one generation, it would go right back to Haiti. Am I Haitian-American? That seems just about right, but isn’t that what you would call someone who has one Haitian parent and one American parent?

The irony is that, even if I identify as Haitian, if I were to go to Haiti right now, they would call me American without a second thought. Something would give me away–either my accent, mannerisms, or the way I dress. In fact, they would even call me a diaspora, which is a condescending term for someone who does not live in Haiti (even if he or she was born there) and comes to visit. You see, then, why such a simple question can be so complicated.

So what does it mean to be American? It’s not really in my jurisdiction to give a definitive answer, especially in light of the tension surrounding some of our president’s latest political decisions. Highlighting the trends that I have noticed, you are considered American here if (a) you were born here and live here; or if you are a descendant of (b) the original European settlers, (c) the indigenous pre-colonial peoples whom we call “Native Americans,” (d) the African slaves brought over during colonial times; or finally (e) if the generations before you have been here long enough and nothing else applies. (For the sake of argument, I distinguish this from the topic of American citizenship.) I am not saying that any of these are right or wrong answers, but that this is the general consensus I have gotten from listening to others discuss this topic.

So my question is this: why do so many of us seem to refrain from identifying as American, even if we fall into one or more of those categories? I can think of two possibilities. The first is ethnocentrism. For first generation Americans, the pressure to disdain American culture is usually externally imposed. Imagine, for example, a girl named Lola, whose parents were born and raised in the Dominican Republic. Lola was born and raised in the U.S. and does not speak Spanish fluently or know how to cook Dominican food. However, her relatives who were born in the D.R. brag about their experience and knowledge of their culture. They tease her for not knowing how to dance bachata at family gatherings. Whether deliberately or unwittingly, those relatives imply that they are the true Dominicans, while Lola is just a cheap imitation. Little by little, they paint her view of being American as inferior, bland, and boring.

The second possibility is a deliberate contempt for this nation and its heritage. The lack of patriotism is easy to find: people despise the greed infused in capitalism; the waste of food, water, and other natural resources; the hypocrisy of the government; and the brutal nature of its foundation, spearheaded by miscreants like Christopher Columbus. Looking at America from a distance, this land might be a beacon of hope and opportunity for some, but it is certainly an object of ridicule and mockery for others. Who would be eager to metaphorically wave their American flag under these conditions?

The irony is that, while this nation does have its undeniable injustices, so many people have come here seeking freedom, and then they use that very same freedom to deride the country that provides it. They have nothing but negative to say about America, yet they continue to attend its schools, take advantage of its welfare programs, and practice free enterprise. There are so many things people take for granted, so many laws and institutions and privileges here that are either fully corrupt or nonexistent in other countries.

Whether you wish to identify as American or not, I will say this: if you are here, make the most of it. No government is perfect, because governments consist of people, and people are not perfect. Embracing your American identity does not mean you sign off on everything our president is doing. It does not mean you are renouncing your family’s heritage, or that you stand for slavery, genocide, or other elements of this country’s dark past and present. Cynicism will only get you so far in life. “We the people of the United States” (as it says in the preamble of the U.S. Constitution) can truly affect change if we put our minds to it. A good place to start would be to reclaim our American spirit.

http://www.experienceproject.com/stories/Know-The-Preamble-To-The-United-States-Constitution/2690633

 

The Fourth Home of the Whitney Museum of American Art

The most recent move that the Whitney Museum has endured is its latest escapade that started in the year of 2010 when Renzo Piano’s design began to be constructed. It resides next to the High Line and patrons from both places are visible to each other. This creates a non-verbal interaction between people; like an extreme version of people watching people. Regardless of its placement, being set among plenty of other larger buildings, it still somehow instills an interplay of inside and outside spaces. The museum is 200,000 square feet which is massive compared to the 82,000 square foot predecessor. The exterior is clad in blue-grey steel panels that reflect and mirror the sky. In the right time of day the building can blend in with its surroundings and become transparent against the sky.

Once you enter the building you are invited by the museum’s shop; which sells books, prints, pins, other kinds of tchotchkes, etc. The elevators are to side; raising people up to the top floor leaving them to walk their way down. I started on the eighth floor and watched as the sun gently poured in through large windows. The light filled the large room, inviting you to stay and observe the art while luring you to go outside. Regardless of the brisk cold air, I felt the need to stay on the terrace; as I took in the spring sun and the sculptures that decorate and live outside. I moved from terrace to terrace, people sprinkled on each level creating a comfortable foot traffic. I continued to navigate through the museum, weaving in and out of the indoor and outdoor spaces until I ultimately reached the end of all the exhibits.

Stairs that connect the terraces.

Sculpture that resides outside

The essence of Whitney’s museum still resides between those walls. The walls are splattered with colors and reminiscent figures; and sculptures gracefully display their physique in the terraces that hover above the building’s footprint. But it all still celebrates American art and what we have to offer the art world. This 107 year old concept has endured through popular despise, fire, four relocations, and some of the worst economic depressions. Only some of these art pioneers were able to see the validity in their work as America ceased its self-loathing period in the art industry. On a regular day you can see many visitors in the Whitney Museum; observing, sketching, reading, or just enjoying each other’s company while sharing their opinions. The art is valued by many and schools use the museum as a resource.

Personally, out of all three homes of the Whitney Museum I like Breuer’s rendition the most; something about massive brutalistic buildings piques my interest. Which was your favorite? What made it you like it?
If you liked the story of the Whitney Museum of American Art, visit the MET (Breuer) and Piano’s Whitney. Admission into the MET is a suggested donation for students, which can be anywhere between $1 to infinity. And the Whitney has reduced price for students.

Restaurant Review: Heights Cafe

It’s not every day or normally that I eat in Downtown Brooklyn/Brooklyn Heights for dinner, but last month/semester my team and I decided on visiting Heights Cafe for our marketing project. One of our team members is actually a server at Heights Cafe so it worked out perfectly. I came with my boyfriend on a Saturday at 5PM  as dinner just started.

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Heights Cafe is located in the heart of Brooklyn Heights and is in a beautiful location because it’s just a short walk from the Brooklyn Promenade. The restaurant/cafe has a warm and bright atmosphere. The walls of the restaurant are decorated with paintings from local artists.

Our friend greeted us with a warm and friendly smile and asked what would we like, gave us recommendations, and etc. We started off with drinks:

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My boyfriend ordered the Angry Orchard and I had a Watermelon Martini. The watermelon martini had a nice and refreshing watermelon taste to it. It reminded me of a Jolly Rancher candy, but in this case infused with alcohol. It was super strong, so I didn’t quite finish it.

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Bread Basket

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Warm Spinach Dip with Corn Tortilla Chips

For appetizer, we had the the Warm Spinach Dip with Corn Tortilla Chips. We typically order fried calamari as an appetizer, but this time I wanted to try something different. The tip was a delight, not too cheesy and you get spinach in every bite. The chips were crunchy and fresh.

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Wild Mushroom Ravioli

My boyfriend ordered the Wild Mushroom Ravioli from the dinner specials menu for the day we went. It was $20.95, so definitely a little more expensive then ravioli we’ve had in other restaurants. The wild mushroom ravioli had olive oil garlic sauce, sauteed shrimp, asparagus, and cherry tomatoes.
The dish is definitely colorful and vibrant. The ravioli was delicious and super filling and I would have preferred more sauce.
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Lobster Mac & Cheese

I had the Lobster Mac & Cheese. The lobster mac & cheese was bathed in brandy lobster cream, Parmesan, Gruyere, and cheddar cheese. I liked it for the most part, tasted more like cheese than lobster-like.I actually had trouble finishing the lobster mac and cheese because there was so much cheese and cream that I got full instantly. The cheese was just a little overwhelming.

Although our dinner was a little more expensive compared to most dinners we have had. Overall, I really liked the service and the attentiveness from the other servers before our friend arrived to our table. I also liked the atmosphere because most of the customers are locals, tourists, and/or family.
I think if I am in the area and in search of warm and delicious comfort food than yes and maybe if for a birthday dinner and etc. If a friend or someone asks me for a good Brooklyn Heights restaurant recommendation, Heights Cafe would definitely be on my top three recommendations.