- Jack Lakis
The American Way
Honestly, I was pretty disgusted by this year’s Met gala. Perhaps more disturbing than its underwhelming fashion, was its theme: ‘Gilded Glamor.’ The act of celebrating America’s greatest stage of economic inequality reads like a dystopian satire. However unfortunate, the Gilded Age and the sight of millionaires on every corner garnered a new spirit of global culture: America was a Land of Opportunity.
It was the breadth of this idea that brought about America’s greatest quality—diversity. Without the archetype of the American Dream, our history wouldn’t be chock full of the immigration that created our modern entity, or the uniquely American nativism brought along with it. Inward migration pulled peoples from Asia, Africa, Europe, and more to establish America’s ‘melting pot’ reality.
Earlier this year, I interviewed one of my local congressional candidates, Antonio Daza-Fernandez. I was curious as to what prompted his campaign bid. He explained that when he immigrated from Venezuela as a reaction to the rise of the Chavez dictatorship, he witnessed what a collapsing democracy looked like. He saw the same story unfold after the 2020 election cycle. This time, Mr. Daza-Fernandez wanted to protect himself, his friends, and the people of the United States. As a gay, middle-class, refugee, Antonio doesn’t look like most of our representatives. But, instead of running from home, he’s running for Congress. For me, that is the perfect American archetype.
A sense of personal uprightness and potential for change defines my American identity. Growing up queer in a predominately conservative environment proved that there was a necessity for change. Finding my voice was a long process of my childhood, especially considering how ignorant members of my community could be. Classmates of mine once expressed their dismay as to how our generation just seems to “protest everything” they disagree with… as if that wasn’t how the vast majority of social progress has been propelled throughout history. Exchanges like this have inspired me to tell my stories, not to elicit anger, but to excite change. I have seen this attitude embraced more so by my generation than ever before.
I find that when organized members of a community are invested in a cause for change, a progressive mindset yields effective results. Everyone has 99 problems, and they don’t want another one. Communication that centers common values and goals is simply a better concept than promoting haste. This perspective guides my values as a citizen. I think a lot could be changed by this simple shift in point of view. Perhaps we would be a more accepting society.
We brand ourselves as “One nation under god,” though I hate that word—nation. It is broadly misleading. A nation is defined as a group of people with a common language, history, set of values, and traditions. We are a country, but the beauty of our union is our differences in histories, values, and traditions. No two Americans live completely identical lives or will ever think perfectly alike. Once again, it is important to embrace our differences, rather than suppress them in exchange for an ‘ideal’ sense of unity. Though, we do meet some standards of nationhood. For example, I do still believe that Americans hold a collective identity. Beyond that, it is hard to even distinguish the United States as a nation. We are not the same, but we are equal. That is the American way.
Even with its purely capitalistic notions of success, the American Dream is inextricably intertwined with what it means to be an American. It delivered our collective identity. One day I hope that the language of our founders is evenly applied to all Americans. Liberty and justice for all. I believe that Gen. Z is capable. I sense a strong, intersectional future for the communities of the United States.