“Now, hypothetically,” says my British professor as only a British professor can, “let us say that Kristina the American decides to go to missions in France. And Kristina the American, no, Kristina the Minnesotan, gets on a plane and goes…” It is only a scenario made up by one of my professors to illustrate something for the class. He scrawls out a Venn diagram on the whiteboard with a circle labeled “M” for Minnesota, and another overlapping circle labeled “F” for France and begins to talk about cultural overlap, how some things would be shared between Minnesotan and French culture and others not. But I confess that for a moment I am not listening. I am caught up in the idea of being identified as a Minnesotan. And I like it.
Living in Singapore, my first obvious characteristic that people notice is that I’m Caucasian, which isn’t terribly uncommon around here, but enough to be different (we’re part of that 1.4% “other”). The second, which comes out as soon as I open my mouth, is that I’m American (as opposed to British, Australian, French or German, other common options). However, being American is problematic, as far as identity goes, for two reasons.
First, when people approach you as an “American” they do so with certain stereotypes and preconceptions. These may be positive or negative, and they may be right or wrong, but, because America tends to export itself globally and without restraint, they are usually very strong. However, these stereotypes are incapable of encompassing what it means to be American as a whole because America is so diverse. So people will ask me “How do Americans feel about gun control?” or something like that. Such questions are impossible to answer simply, and my usual response is “Well, which Americans? East Coast, South, Midwest, or West Coast? Urban or Rural? Liberal or Conservative?”