What Constitutes an American

Washington DC TaxisI’ve been trying to get inspired to write something for my next iteration and was toying with adding a revised perspective on the migrant crisis in Europe (note the term ‘refugee crisis’ has now been clarified into ‘migrant crisis’ as apparently only 20% of the people in the crisis are actually Syrian regugees…but that’s for another chapter).

In order to find some inspiration, I thought I’d work my way through some of the articles from Brookings, as I subscribe to their e-newsletter. The following article caught my eye on Friday, when it gonged in (all my alerts come in as the gong of a temple bell), so I settled down to procrastinate a bit and read “What is the American Public Thinking?” (or, as the newsletter headline read: How the Republican electorate thinks about foreign policy).

The article, written by Jeremy Shapiro, starts is written tongue-in-cheek, which is fine for an op-ed of course, but what caught my eye was the following sentence right in the opening paragraph:

And in D.C., the taxi drivers are mostly from foreign countries so I have fewer direct insights into the American mind than Thomas Friedman.*

There is a very implicit assumption being made here that taxi drivers, because they are from foreign countries, have never bothered to become American citizens, perhaps from a lack of interest and for wanting to milk the American cow (I say “cow” strictly in the bovine sense as a provider of nutrition and health – these are also my musings and not the author’s, just to be clear).

Clearly, a taxi driver is not representational of what the American mind, however that mysterious entity may be defined,  is thinking.

I don’t take cabs all that often, but I used to in Calgary when I worked late night shifts with Telus. Yes, most of my taxi drivers were foreign born, quite often white collar workers – doctors, lawyers, and teachers – back in their countries of origin. But they had, or were trying, to become Canadian citizens. I would hazard a guess that the say could be said of many of the foreign-born taxi drivers across North America. And, to be fair, obtaining citizenship in our countries the old-fashioned way (take that as you will, given the scenarios being played across the globe right now), is a very long, multi-year, bureaucratic process.

What is question here then is this: what defines the American mind?

Is it the milk-faced (again with the milk analogy!) young farmer and their (his, not her, in this sopping analogy) 2.58 family from the Mid-West? Is it the (insert: ethnicity of choice, carefully not to mix them with that of a taxi driver) New Yorker found crossing the street in upper Manhattan? Or the Minnesota retiree, driving a Lincoln Continental as carefully preserved as the owner’s fake n’ bake, who is guaranteed to be found in Florida on a hot December day.

What limits one’s perspective from identifying the ‘American mind’ is what keeps most people from thinking about talking to their taxi drivers. I do not know whether Mr. Shapiro does or does not speak with his taxi driver, but if he does not, I would encourage him to do so, as he may find that the American mind has been sitting in the driver’s seat the entire time.

*Thomas Friedman’s article on the “Taxi Driver” is quite a fun read as well, for what it’s worth, but he falls into the same trap as Shapiro in that he identifies his taxi driver as a foreign born individual, and not a hint of thinking about him as a French citizen.


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