Food For Thought

A Real American: Are You One?

by Dr. John E. Bonfadini, Ed.D., Professor Emeritus, George Mason University

John Bonfadini

Recently, I received an e-mail with an attached letter. It was one of the many political commentaries floating around on the Internet these days.

The letter, written by a teacher, expresses her concern for the direction America is heading. She used the term “real American,” implying that some Americans are real and others counterfeit. She obviously believes that her position is that of a real, and not a counterfeit, American. I thought about her use of the term real American and wondered if I am one; so I sought out a definition.

Webster’s dictionary defines American as such: Adj. 1. Of, relating to, or characteristic of the United States of America, its people, culture, government, or history; 2. Of, in, or pertaining to North or South America or the Western Hemisphere; 3. Of or pertaining to Indians inhabiting America; 4. Indigenous to North or South American — American elm, American elk, etc.

Webster’s also offers the following definition of the word “real”: Adj. 1. Not imaginary, fictional, pretended; actual;

2. Authentic or genuine; 3. Essential, basic; 4. Being no less than what is stated; worthy of the name; 5. Serious, not taken lightly; and others.

The definitions show that Americans can come from two continents. They may be native, such as the American Indian. They may also be individuals who come from other parts of the world who are willing to aspire to a certain belief or culture. I suspect the e-mail letter-writer was referring to her own narrowly defined way of thinking, one that excludes many citizens of this nation.

I’ve always felt that the only true Americans are those of American Indian ancestry. The rest of us believe in a philosophy that’s framed in the Constitution of the United States. Americans live under this framework. Two fundamental beliefs outlined in the Constitution are freedom of speech and religion.

My e-mail letter-writer had a limited view relating to freedom of religion. Her definition of a real religion seems as narrow as her definition of a real American. She implied that real Americans are Christian. Our forefathers recognized the need to respect and give equal dignity to the religions of all people, even those who choose to have none. For years, we have given lip service to the freedom-of-religion concept. I can think of no other topic that is as emotionally charged as religion. It’s possible to give the topic justice in a small essay such as Food for Thought, but we as a society must continually examine in our own minds what is meant by the phrase, “freedom of religion,” and to what degree each of us is willing to accept the concept in its purest form.

I attended church in Tampa the weekend of July 4th. The priest gave a homily on what it means to be Catholic in America. He discussed how being accepted as American was difficult for early Catholic immigrants, and how many had to set up their own schools and support systems because they weren’t welcomed in the system that already existed. Many religions have experienced the same growth process. Our Constitution states one thing, but our hearts sometimes say another. If real Americans believe in the fundamental concept of freedom of religion, then we must somehow learn to implement the idea in our everyday actions. The e-mail letter-writer can’t pretend any longer and call herself a real American just because she is of a specific faith. Just as I have the freedom to write this column, I respect her right to send me her e-mail letter. But I don’t have to agree with her definition of a real American.

There seems to be plenty of free speech going around, with people trying to define what real Americans should do and believe. The proliferation of television and radio “talk shows” underscores our acceptance of and fascination with free speech. Today we have continuous conservative and liberal talk-show programming, with show hosts trying to sell their philosophy, much in the way churches try to promote their religions as the true one. In my opinion, real Americans don’t necessarily promote the “left” or the “right,” but rather learn to successfully work in either environment to promote democracy.

The 15th Amendment to the Constitution speaks to the topic of race. The e-mail letter I got also spoke in general terms about race. From her tone, it was obvious that the writer was not looking at the America I see on the streets or represented in the media. The United States is truly becoming a melting pot for the world. This is the way the country is headed, so the letter-writer would be well advised to learn to adapt. Her occupation, teacher, is the one occupation that should be most tolerant of diverse views.

The term real American should be defined in the broadest way — it should include all citizens, regardless of race, color, religion or philosophical base, as long as respect is given to the Constitution and the concepts it embodies.

Real Americans, in my view, believe in a constantly evolving form of government that serves the will of all its citizens without any footnotes. Am I one? I’m working hard at it, but I must admit that I too at times have a counterfeit side.

How real are you? 

Whats Your View?

Obviously, there are at least two sides to every issue. Do you have a different view? This column is meant to provoke thought, so keep sending comments. Each one is read with the utmost interest. Send e-mail to:, or send written responses to the editor. Mail will be forwarded to the author.




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