“The United States derives its strength from the diversity of the people who live here…but we’re not a melting pot. A melting pot is a place where you put a lot of different ingredients and eventually they blend in together and become all the same. I look on our country as more of a beautiful mosaic, with different kinds of people involved in freedom, individuality, pride, cooperation, understanding, searching for answers to difficult questions in their own way, each contributing, hopefully, the strongest single characteristic of their background and heritage and special sensitivity to a common purpose.” [1]

-Former President Jimmy Carter

Recently, the current political administration declared that this past week would be “Made in America Week.” This designation, which was part of an effort to highlight the industrial and manufacturing prowess of businesses within our own country, had the unfortunate side-effect of treating American identity as a commodity: By focusing on what it means to be “Made in America” in business terms at a time when deeper, more nuanced questions about American identity press for our attention, we do a disservice to our people, our nation’s greatest asset.   Looking past the purely material and commercial aspects of what it means to be “Made in America,” I want to reflect for a moment on the implications of what it means for us, both as citizens and as human beings, to be “American Made.”

In order to better understand the concept of national identity, however, it helps to approach it through a local lens. I myself am a native Baltimorean, and I have lived in Baltimore for more than 50 years. Even so, my identity as a Baltimorean has never been something that I have “possessed” or been entitled to simply by nature of having lived and been raised here.  It has always been, first and foremost, a group practice, a collective act of becoming. For me, being a Baltimorean has been about being immersed in the community culture of our City, giving of myself alongside my fellow residents.

The truth of the matter is that we never become who we are alone. The myth of the self-made person is, in some ways, a uniquely American construction. Even more fundamental to our national identity, however, are the living and breathing communities into which we are born and educated as citizens. It is within these communities that we learn to expand our concerns beyond ourselves, and the racial, economic, religious, and social diversity that we are exposed to within our communities expands the horizons of our concerns. Baltimore is a rich city full of diverse neighborhoods with distinct community cultures. These cultures all contribute to the greater reality of what it means to be a Baltimorean, whether you are R.I.C.H. (raised in Cherry Hill), call Highlandtown home, or reside in Ten Hills.

It is this unity within diversity that Former President Jimmy Carter reminds us is our most precious asset as Americans. The collective striving of people with different backgrounds, heritages, beliefs, and dreams enriches all of our lives and shapes what it means for each of us to have our identities forged, or “made,” in America.

In the end, “community” is as much an activity as an identity, which is to say that community identity is forged in and through participation in the community. As sociologist Robert Putnam notes, the actions of communities have far-reaching impacts for the well-being of those who participate in them:

“The most startling fact about social connectedness is how pervasive are its effects. We are not talking here simply about nostalgia for the 1950s. School performance, public health, crime rates, clinical depression, tax compliance, philanthropy, race relations, community development, census returns, teen suicide, economic productivity, campaign finance, even simple human happiness—all are demonstrably affected by how (and whether) we connect with our family, friends, neighbors and co-workers.” [2]

So recently removed from the anniversary of our nation’s founding, let us not forget that being “made in America” is an ongoing responsibility. We are called to continue to embrace one another, and new members of our communities, with open arms as we continually expand our horizons beyond the narrow confines of our own concerns. Because it takes, and has always taken, a community to make us who we are.



[1] Carter, Jimmy. “Department of Health, Education, and Welfare Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session with Department Employees,” February 16, 1977. Available online at https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=7977

[2] Putnam, Robert. “Lonely in America,” from an Interview with The Atlantic, September 21, 2000. Available online at https://www.theatlantic.com/past/docs/unbound/interviews/ba2000-09-21.htm