Living in America

Living in AmericaAn Italian-American Shares Her Perspective on Patriotism 

By Anita Doberman

T he Fourth of July is an important holiday in my life story. Like all Americans, I celebrate our great country and what it stands for. But because I immigrated here from Italy and didn’t grow up with many of the United States’ privileges, this holiday has an even more special meaning for me.

I love how the Fourth of July represents not only American history, but also the American dream and, above all, absolute liberty. It’s something that I think about more and more since I married my military husband and had children – five girls and a little boy we adopted from Ethiopia. I always get emotional when I see the flag go up, especially when I’m toughing it out while my husband is on a deployment or when my little ones automatically put their hands on their hearts during the national anthem.

I believe the kind of freedom we enjoy in the United States is unique to this land. Being an immigrant has given me the ability to appreciate this liberty and the many privileges of this nation, but it also has made it harder to assimilate and to feel like I really belong. I often wonder if I fit in, or if my accent and my mannerisms always will remind others of the ways in which I am different.

If someone points out my foreign accent or asks me if I want to go back “home,” it’s a painful confirmation that many people subconsciously see me as not fully American. I know that friends or acquaintances mean well, but I find myself explaining that the United States is my home, and even though I wasn’t born here, this is where I belong. Or if my family overseas tells me that I have become too Americanized and that my children don’t know enough about the Italian language or heritage, I am aware that the distance between my children and my Italian parents is becoming far greater than I would like.

As an immigrant, and an Italian-American woman, I have had to navigate through different layers of identity, but the journey has been one that has taught me a lot about myself and others, sometimes in surprising ways. My idea of what an American is has evolved over time.

For example, when I first moved to the United States, I pictured Dallas as the most authentically American place there could be. I fantasized about being an American girl in Texas, going to an American high school with real lockers, cheerleaders and football players.

Never mind that I didn’t speak English or that I hadn’t the faintest idea that Dallas was a sprawling metropolis. In my mind, Dallas was the ultimate American city, full of cowboys and Southern belles. More importantly, it was where I would learn to ride a horse – not one of those sickly-looking ponies in the middle of Roman traffic but a real American horse.

This ideal dream never happened, and when I eventually visited Dallas I realized it wasn’t at all how I imagined it. But I still believed that being a true American had to do with cowboys, country music, line dancing, big trucks, large hats and pointy boots and that I was lacking some key ingredient that would turn me into a true “American” girl.

Over time, I have realized that I am an American just like anyone else living in this land, with different identities and beliefs, but that I share a common love of the United States and the endless possibilities it offers. A true American isn’t just someone who wears cowboy boots, though I still have a soft spot for them; it’s anyone who has come here to live free and try to make a new life.

In a way, everyone goes through a process of wanting to fit in and eventually accepting and blending differences. For an immigrant like myself it may take a bit more work and dedication, but it’s worth it.

Each Fourth of July, I celebrate the wonders of this land and the opportunities I was granted, and I remind myself that my journey of acceptance has allowed me to bring my own unique gifts to this amazing country.