What Does It Mean to Be an Immigrant and to Be an American?

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The American Dream is a beloved philosophy among immigrants because it acts as a roadmap on how to develop their lives on American ethos while enjoying the concept's values in order to become true Americans. The majority of people who moved (and continue to migrate) to the United States do so because they feel it is a land of unrivaled opportunity in comparison to what their home countries would bring. For several centuries, the United States has seen large numbers of immigrants coming from all over the world, live, and become part of the great American folk. The American economy is much superior to most economies across the world because it allows individuals to work and get repaid with respect to the level of their hard work ensuring success and prosperity. Therefore, it is logical for someone to migrate from his or her homeland where opportunities are scarce into the United States in search of better opportunities. In this country, a person is assured of their children getting better high quality education to help them compete with other people on a global scale while also providing critical opportunities to help an individual to thrive socially and commercially.

In abstract, the American Dream simply translates to pursuit of happiness and personal satisfaction whereas the ideals of the principle include: equality, opportunity, liberty, rights, and democracy (Kamp n.p.). The founding fathers of the nation believed that there is no man above another since everyone was created equal, thus they all have the right to liberty, life, and pursue contentment. This is in contrast with the British colonialist perceptions of the olden days whereby people were defined through social stratification with the nobility enjoying privileges not bestowed upon everyone else. Immigrants leave for America because that is their best chance of enjoying liberty, democracy, equality and opportunities bestowed upon all Americans irrespective of gender, race, social background, and even ethnicity.

The American Society, Culture and Immigrants

The America society is a highly diversified community made up of several cultures from all continents across the world. A commonly held belief is that at some point many years back the land was barren then came waves of Paleo-Americans during the pre-Columbian era (Fagan 418). The first European contact with the country took place during the 15th century through Christopher Columbus (Kennedy and Cohen 5). After the Europeans had settled and developed large plantations, large populations of people of African origin were brought into the continent to work. The final stage was the influx of large numbers of people from across the world into the United States during the 20th century. The latter groups of people became known as immigrant populations and they came after the First World war as well as the Second World War. During the period following World War I, the United States had established herself as a powerful nation having helped the allied powers to win the war. Therefore, most European economies struggled at the time to rebuild their nations as a result of the war spillover while the United States remained highly industrialized and less affected.

An immigrant can be referred to as a person who moves from one country to another (in this case from anywhere into the United States) where one is not a native or has no citizenship so as to live there or obtain employment. Therefore, immigration can be described as crossing national borders from one’s country of origin into another. Once settled in the new land a person is viewed as a foreigner since he or she is originally from another country (Coll and Amy 11). The immigrant can become a citizen through the process of naturalization whereby one is granted citizenship. On the other hand, an American can be referred to as an inhabitant or a native of the United States. Americans share a common culture exhibited through the language spoken, customs, and beliefs (Swickard n.p.). The official language spoken by Americans is American English which slightly differs from British English. Americans have various customs including the observation of thanksgiving day during which a people celebrate and eat turkeys. The American beliefs are engraved in democracy, liberty, equality and human rights.

The Arrival: Immigrant Perceptions and Experiences

In The Arrival, Shaun Tan explores the experiences of an immigrant in a strange country with an unfamiliar culture. The man lives his family behind in search of better opportunities and travels across the ocean into the strange land. The experience with the customs officials is quite rough and the man dislikes how he is treated. He is hit by culture shock once he steps into the country since he cannot understand the language spoken by the natives as well as some of their cultural practices. There are strange animals and objects including floating vessels which seem to astonish the man. The man cannot comfortably find his way around and all he has is his suitcase. When he finally gets a place to stay it is completely different to what he is used to seeing in terms of architectures since the bed is in an attic-like room. The man is clearly lonely as he misses his family but has a peculiar pet showing him around. The pet in the room looks strange and appears to be very intelligent. As the man moves around he interacts with different people through whom he learn of their various experiences in their original homelands. Most people are warm and hospitable towards him though the food he is offered is quite strange.

Alienation, solitude, and hope are the main themes explored by Shaun Tan in The Arrival. These are the experiences of most immigrants once they land into the United States in search of a better life to support their families. In contrast, an American is part of the culture in which the foreigner has to fit in. The natives are often lucky to have been born in a society possessing what some people in foreign lands can only dream of (Swickard n.p.). The immigrants’ experiences in their original homelands can be very scary at times. The intended author intends to help the viewer see what it means to be a stranger in a foreign land as well as appreciate and embrace immigrants through empathy as individuals take turns in stepping in each other’s shoes.

Immigrants consider the United States to be the land of opportunities and one of the fewest places in the world where a person can be guaranteed freedom and liberty to work towards personal success (Swickard n.p.). An American believes that everyone deserves to be given equal opportunities to showcase their hard work upon which they should harvest what they plant. Every individual has the right to life and with democracy it is ensured that the people are given the opportunity to decide their political destiny. Furthermore, the continued diversification of the American society in the present era is a clear indication of the hospitality of the American people. Refugees in the United States have always found life in America much better as compared to what they had in their homelands as well as what other refugees experience in most countries. Racial discrimination is often discouraged by the society as postulated in the American constitution (Coll and Amy 8). It is not uncommon for a true American to frown upon discrimination, dictatorship, oppression and suffering in the society.


Most of the people who come to the United States are not accompanied by their entire families and friends due to lack of documentation and funds. As such immigrants begin an entirely new and unfamiliar life away from their close friends and families as well. A person cannot bring along each and everything he or she owns back in his homeland. In the case of The Arrival, the man packs a few belongings including a family portrait in his suitcase (Shaun 5). The family escorts him as he leaves. His daughter does not seem entirely happy about the idea of her father leaving her behind. Therefore, his wife remains behind with their daughter enduring a life away from her husband. She will not be able to see her husband for many days to come hence she is set to miss him dearly. His daughter will also be affected for the days he will not be around.

While aboard a ship on his way to the foreign land, the man looks at the family portrait while peering through the window towards where he has come from (Shaun 16). This is a clear portrayal of his solitude by the author. The migrant has left his family behind in his homeland and he is probably worried about their wellbeing since the condition there was not good. He openly misses them as he can neither see nor talk to them. The author further shows more people in the same condition as the man, leaving their families behind for a foreign land in search of better lives. Migrants are often faced with the challenge of living without their families close by in the United States. Such individuals have to endure long nights away from their families wondering if their families are safe and sound back home. There are some American families that usually try welcome new people into their neighborhood ensuring they feel at home. It is common for folks to greet their neighbors and invite them for barbecue and drinks as they learn about each other and reinforce the true American spirit.


At the customs bureau the migrant finds himself among very many people he does not recognize after arriving a land he finds quite unfamiliar (Shaun 22-26). The custom officials treat him roughly and he wishes he had his family around to talk to him. He feels like he does not belong. The vessel that transports him from the port makes him feel like part of a different world as he shows disgust on his face (30). Even when he lands he does not seem to be familiar with his surroundings as everything appears to be strange. A strange language, strange-looking animals, strange commodities, strange vessels, and strange musical instruments make him more confused and isolated (35-36). Furthermore, he does not know his way around the place. He meets a local person and the two individuals cannot understand each other (37). There is language barrier. He ends up drawing for the local to show him what he is asking.

When foreigners come into the United States they are faced with various challenges that makes it hard for them to feel like they belong. One such significant problem is language barrier. People who cannot speak English are more likely to have a very difficult time moving around if they are alone. Hainmueller and Hopkins (531) established that Americans are more likely to welcome educated people as compared to those who illiterate regardless of their own level of education. However, it should be noted that the threat of terrorism in the recent years has become a major factor in shaping negative attitudes among Americans towards migrants as they fear for their lives.


People leave behind various horrors in life as they move to far away lands in order to try to make their lives better than they already are. The life of an immigrant is a life full of sacrifices made with only one goal in mind, to succeed and achieve. The concept of the American Dream is one that encourages the society to be exercise healthy competition while ensuring the wellbeing of other people including their rights and freedoms being respected. Since it promises benefits for individuals in the society it is one worth sacrificing for as people risk leaving their families behind just follow the path of American ideals. It is important for all Americans to recognize and understand the various foundations of the American Dream as it is what makes America the great nation it is. Shaun Tan gives his readers the opportunity to live and experience an immigrant's life in literary terms in order identify the various challenges​ faced by migrants and appreciate them. It is also an eye opener for those who would like to go a foreign land in order to begin a new life.

Works Cited

Coll, Cynthia García Ed, and Amy Kerivan Ed Marks. The immigrant paradox in children and adolescents: Is becoming American a developmental risk?. American Psychological Association, 2012.

Hainmueller, Jens, and Daniel J. Hopkins. "The hidden American immigration consensus: A conjoint analysis of attitudes toward immigrants." American Journal of Political Science 59.3 (2015): 529-548.

Kamp, David. "Rethinking the American Dream" . Vanity Fair . 30 May 2009. Web. 20 May 2011.

Kennedy, David M., and Cohen, Lizabeth. American Pageant. 16th ed. Boston,Cengage: 2015.

Shaun, Tan. The Arrival. Perth, Hodder Children's Books: 2006.

Swickard, Michael. “What it means to be an American.” USA Today. Current-Argus, 14 April 2017. Web. 20 May 2017.

September 11, 2021

Philosophy Sociology

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Expertise American Dream
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