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The Evolving American Identity

What exactly is "American identity" and how has it changed throughout this country's history? On the eve of Independence Day, we talk about what it means to be an American and how that identity has e

The Evolving American Identity

Tom Fudge: Tomorrow is the 4th of July. It's a day to celebrate the things that have made the U.S. a great country. But since we're not quite there yet, we're going to take a little time to delve into what it really means to be an American.

Some people who have examined this question say that being an American means making a choice. It means choosing to make a commitment to a political ideal and a way of life. This is different from other nations in which bonds of ethnicity, faith and memory hold people together. Being an American also means embracing change and believing that change can make life better. This is a common part of the immigrant experience. And it's fair to say that millions of Americans have chosen to move to California to seek the good life. 

Today, the ethnic makeup of America is more and more diverse. Yet most of us believe that assimilation of different kinds of people is still part of the American experience. But do we still have the values and the sense of commitment to freedom and tolerance for which this country became famous?

Is America the same place it was 50 or 100 years ago? Can we continue to enjoy life in a country of tolerance, freedom and acceptance of change? 


  • Michael Schudson , author of The Good Citizen: A History of American Civic Life . He teaches communication and sociology at UCSD and is a professor at Columbia University's Journalism School.