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The American dream

October 30, 2009

It was inspiring to read the story in Saturday's paper of the 34 people who recently took an oath to become U.S. citizens at the federal courthouse in Martinsburg, W.Va.

The gripping photo accompanying the story spoke volumes. A man taking part in a naturalization ceremony was holding an American flag. Hope and gratitude seemed to project from his gaze.

References to the "land of opportunity," appreciation for hard work and the ability to pursue plans for the future brought to mind the writings of J. Hector St. John de Crevecoeur.

While certainly not a widely recognized author, St. John became the first Colonial American writer to gain recognition in Europe.

Born in France in 1735, St. John became a naturalized citizen and adopted his naturalized name - John Hector St. John - a few years after he immigrated to North America in 1755.

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His work as a farmer in the state of New York provided insight into colonial life. While Europeans thought of America as diverse and separate colonies, St. John presented the North American settlements as varied yet unified by an experimental spirit.

Who was this "new man" seeming to evolve on the Western horizon? While once "scattered all over Europe; here they are incorporated." They will "hereafter become distinct by the power of the different climates they inhabit."

This concept of an American identity set the stage for much of the writing from the Colonial time period.

In order for America to have a literary presence in the world, she needed to be viewed as a separate entity from Europe.

It was in St. John's "Letters from an American Farmer" that the spirit of the American dream was first expressed in literary form. He also describes America as a "melting pot" of nationalities.

"Here individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men, whose labors and posterity will one day cause great changes in the world," he wrote.

It's easy to be swayed by the naysayers who are quick to point out our country's negatives. Admittedly, there is much that could be improved.

But we still live in the greatest country on earth, and are recognized as such throughout the world.

If anything needs changing, perhaps it should start with our attitudes. Then we might see ourselves as part of the solution. Is it only politicians who can facilitate change? Or do we merely place the blame on them because we're too lazy to act?

What can we do together to make this country a better place for all?

That's a question for every citizen of the United States of America.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at lisap@herald-mail.com .

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