America: Not Quite So..



For centuries Europeans described a land far away, somewhere to the West , where no man has set foot before. A land free of any government, rich with resources and ready to be taken and settled. Early explorers described a green, lush, rich and fertile land. A land where all men are created equal and a man can be free to tend to his family and farm. Here you wouldn’t have to worry about religious persecution or feel the tug of the government on your leash. If you have the will and the heart to commit to a New World then God would reward you with the resources this land brings. This dreamland finally felt the toes of Puritans who christened this land as a “City Upon a Hill.” Perched high above us all, on a hill, ever vigilant and ever watchful this shining beacon of hope came to be called America. Europeans were right, this land gives and gives. It has the greenest grass, the bluest skies, the most reddest bricks, the most golden streets and the most fertile land of them all. But this land comes at a price, for this land is populated by savages who must be taught that the City Upon a Hill is here to stay. This City Upon a Hill spread out across the continent and overcame adversity to unite both oceans under one Destiny, one Manifest Destiny given by Him and carried out in His name. The City Upon a Hill suffered many cracks and flaws but remained unwavering and undisturbed for ages

Perhaps no bigger crack on the City was the dirtiest, most vile disgusting place that has been unfortunate enough to appear on earth; The Five Points. The mere existence of this place chips away at the very foundation of the City Upon a Hill and forces one to reconsider everything positive once said about this land. For here men are not created equal, instead are forced together into a miserable square of land and forced to survive. A man cannot tend to his family or farm for he has none. Religion is as non-existent as the peoples hope for a decent meal. There are no rewards for hard work and no promises for a better future. Here the grass is NOT QUITE SO green. The sky is NOT QUITE so blue. The bricks NOT QUITE so red. The streets NOT QUITE SO golden and the land NOT QUITE SO fertile. The City Upon a Hill has been ransacked, all of its belongs taken. There is nothing left but a desolate shell of a city. All we are left with is the dying image of opportunity, the heart of America, where settlers attempted to conquer the wild. The City is vacant and abandoned, its only companion is a forlorn grave mourning an idea which has gone and withered away.

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One Response to America: Not Quite So..

  1. zepeda3000 says:

    Like most immigrants coming to the United States, Jacob Riis left his homeland with the “American Dream” in mind. He had hopes of making it as a carpenter and gathered enough money from friends and family to board a ship and leave his Danish land on route to New York (Simkin). Upon his arrival, Riis quickly found himself shoved into the Lower East Side of Manhattan along with the other nearly 400,000 immigrants. Riis quickly found work but was not satisfied with the miserable living conditions. He heard news about France and Germany going to war against each other and knew that Denmark would soon follow France into war (Simkin). He desperately wanted to join his Motherland into war but found that no one was enlisted Danish soldiers. With no plans or job Riis was penniless and scavenged food, slept in public areas and at one point his only companion was a stray dog. Needless to say, the “American Dream” Riis had in mind was completely shattered and any idealistic views of America were thrown out the window. The image here labeled “Bandits Roost” is later on in Riis’ life when he worked for the New York Tribune (Simkin). Riis was among the first wave of journalist known as “muckrakers” who ushered in a new era of investigative journalism that targeted truthful reports to perform an auditing or watchdog function. Muckrakers helped exposed political machine bosses such as William “Boss” Tweed and in Riis’ case it helped bring reform to an impoverished area. This image was a part of photographs and investigative journalism published by Riis title as How The Other Half Lives. As a journalist he returned back to where his American journey began and reported on the extremely poor living conditions in which the people of the Five Points district of Manhattan lived (Simkin). As Charles Dickens wrote during his visit to America “This is the place; these narrow ways diverging to the right and left, and reeking everywhere with dirt and filth” (Dickens 91.) Indeed, the Five Points was notorious for being disease ridden, crime infested and poverty stricken. This image in particular portrays a Five Points alleyway known as “Bandits Roost” which was described as the most crime ridden and dangerous place in all of New York City. I chose this image because I feel the history behind it fundamentally represents America. During the 1880s thousands and thousands of immigrants poured into NYC and were met with opposition from anti-immigration organization who felt there new immigrants were destroying the American way of life. Political groups such as the “Know Nothing” a political movement by the nativist American people characterized by political xenophobia, anti-Catholic sentiment, tried to exclude immigrants from daily life. At the same time, these new immigrants felt a sense of patriotism and loyalty toward the U.S for given them an opportunity. This newly created sense of being “American” clashed with the nativist traditional view of being American. To me, this struggle for a definition of being American is a defining characteristic of being American. In my eyes, that definition is ever elusive and constantly changing and it takes on a different meaning from person to person. Moreover, Kristen Silva Gruesz in “Keywords for American Cultural Studies” points out the elusive nature of defining America and the question regarding who gets to belong to America. The answers to these questions aren’t as direct as we might like but holds true to the ambiguous nature of the definition. It holds true certainly in 1880s America and even in today’s modern globalized era. Much of the commentary and manifesto was influenced by Jacob Riis and Kristen Silva Gruesz’ observations regarding what “America” is.

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