Monday, May 11, 2009

A more divisible nation?

There are moments in life where you need to put your pride down and weep, even just for a little while. This is one of these moments: I wrote this argumentative essay for my "Cultural Studies" class in April 2009 and we needed to claim whether there is more that divides Americans or more that unites them. We should discuss the results in the light of regional differences. Although it was not the grade I expected, and it pinched quite hard, I still thought it was important to add it to my collection because I remain very proud of it. What I've learned is that critical feedback will always push you to become a better writer.

In a vast country such as the United States of America, with a population of more than three hundred millions spread within an area of over nine million square kilometers, it is hardly possible to place the American people in just one single category. It is also improbable to conclude that there is one particular characteristic that is common to all Americans. In fact, it is the opposite: we can even consider the country as being a smorgasbord, since there are countless factors that differ immensely from one part of the United States to the other extreme. Pluralism goes hand in hand with the essence of this nation and its citizens: there is no typical American but diverse (stereo)types of Americans. In effect, we shall take the following arguments to illustrate why there are more factors that divide the American people, rather than unite them. There exist various approaches in order to analyze these differences. In this essay, we will focus on sorting these features by examining the four main regions: the West, the Midwest, the North East and the South.

When the people in the East coast are ready to go to sleep, for the others living in California, it may only be time for supper. And whilst some prepare for the harsh winter in the state of Vermont, the inhabitants of Florida need never to worry about buying a winter jacket. Yet it is not only the different time zones or geographical aspects that affect the division amongst the American people. An important factor would be the historical background of this country. To the present day, history has shaped a number of characteristics of the citizens’ identity. Accordingly, it has also influenced their way of living. 

The first settlers in the South were English Protestants; but in contrast to the other English Protestants who established in the North East in the early seventeenth century, they were not as driven: “they were less independent and revolutionary by nature." There was a clear distinction in temperament. Nowadays, we can compare their behavior with their attitudes in the past, Americans in the South are still well known for living in a slightly slower pace and prefer it laid back. 

At the very beginning, the North East was the region that had a great impact on the entire United States. In addition, this side of the nation represented the “Cradle of American Industry."  Consequently, it is no surprise that the North East then became the “home” region to the booming economy of the country. Furthermore, the most prestigious universities like Harvard and Yale are in this part of the USA, In the middle of the nineteenth century, gold awaken in people the desire to become wealthy and travel further into the West coast. Today, the West, in particular Hollywood, is still one of – or the biggest – industry in the USA where people aspire to live and fulfill their dreams; and get rich and famous. Finally, by studying the historical context in the various areas, we can ascertain that history has molded the regions and their citizens. By these means we imagine a more “separate” nation: the state where one comes from forges his/her behavior as well as his interests.

Secondly, we will analyze another relevant aspect that also causes a division amongst Americans: the different states in the US are incontestably separable by their political preferences. On one hand, we have the blue states, whose citizens will predominantly vote for the Democratic Party. California, Iowa and the state of New York are a few of these representative blue states. On the other hand, states such as Texas, Wyoming and Indiana, whose citizens are more inclined to cast in their votes for a Republican candidate, are called the red states. Despite the fact that in the 2008 elections, as well as in the 2004 presidential elections, the colors red and blue smudged into creating purple states i.e. there is an equal number of voters for the Democrat and Republican Party; the typical red state citizen is still very different from a classic blue state one. For instance, Republicans, with a good fifty-one percent of voters in red states, attend mass at church at least one a week compared to only thirty-four in the blue states. Additionally, Republicans are more prompt to support gun ownership and Democrats are more likely to agree with gay marriages. Undoubtedly, both Republicans and Democrats can be proud citizens of their nation, but these features such as their political opinion and upbringing proclaim a division amongst regions and the American people.

Finally, we can distinguish a more divisible USA in terms of people’s cultural heritage. Not only are the American people from so many different ethnicities and practice diverse religious beliefs, but it is also the region’s cultural background that primarily separates a Southerner from a New Yorker; or a citizen from Hawaii from one who comes from the heartland of America. This cultural difference consists of their taste in food, their music preference, and the detectable dialects and accents in the English language. An example is this linguistic particularity: “soft drinks” vary its name depending on the region. Every region introduces a different American, who is familiar with either soda, coke or pop. Finally, we can see how the heterogeneous cultural aspects in the country, even the smallest details like the term used for soft drinks, contributed to a more divisible USA.

In conclusion, after analyzing the dissimilarities between regions and American citizens on various levels – in a historical, political and a cultural context –, we can see that there is more that divides Americans and less features than unites them. Perhaps it is a flaw and these aspects will create a bigger gap between regions and will continue dividing the nation in the future, but these characteristics  – which vary and are still very unique to each region – can also be regarded as an asset; and the strength of the country. Indeed, although we acknowledge this definite division between regions, origins shape their identity, habits, opinions and beliefs. Due to more divisible features, regional identity might be as important – or even more essential than American national identity. On this last note, as mentioned in the conversation between David Hackett Fisher and William Ferris who discuss the power of regionalism, according to Fischer, “A region […] is a cultural thing. It is people who share a sense of themselves, who form a bond with one another and also with the place”.