Defining the label American can be complicated. What makes someone an American? Citizenship status? Residency? Paying taxes, playing baseball, speaking English, eating apple pie? The United States is a nation of immigrants—almost every one of us has ancestors who came to America from other parts of the world, and immigrants continue to arrive today. Citizens and residents of the United States demonstrate tremendous diversity with regard to religion, culture, native language, beliefs, and tradition. As the old adage goes, America is one big melting pot. So, if we’re all different, how do we define our national identity? What does it mean to be American when Americans are so diverse?
Now that the United States stands as the world’s only superpower, defining “American” has become all the more important. Many of our leaders wish to export American ideas and values abroad, but which ideas and values are distinctly American? What are the basic factors that influence and define our political identity? Before turning to the finer points of American government, we need to explore the principles and core values that define America.