‘What Makes an American?’ panel closes faculty lecture series


What makes an American? Three City College teachers took the stage at 5:30 p.m. last night in the Business-Communications Forum to answer that question.

The faculty lecture is the last installation in a series hosted by the Academic Senate titled, “Reclaiming Democracy.”

Senate President Priscilla Butler introduced the speakers and set the tone of the lecture saying, “we want to look at this topic through an interdisciplinary perspective.”

Manou Eskandari-Qajar, Ruth Morales, and Raeanne Napoleon, answered the question from their respective fields of study: political-science, economics and chemistry.

In his introduction, professor Eskandari-Qajar, shot down the nuances of his national identity.

“It should be kind of ironic that an Iranian- Austrian will be giving this lecture however” he said, “I have been [in America] for 38 years.”

Eskandari-Qajar focused his answer on American political ideology, specifically Thomas Jefferson’s three core values in the constitution. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The political-science professor explained there are two narratives to understanding and answering the question,“one that is dominant and imposed, an the other arrived at in common.”

Economics Instructor Ruth Morales shifted the conversation from ideas to dreams saying, “the pursuit of the American dream, how this has changed, and to what level it is achieved.”

She defined this by looking at the probability of children in America making more than their parents.

“We used to have the American dream in the 1940’s, but times have changed,” she continued. “Being born in Canada you are almost twice as likely to achieve the American Dream.”

Morales answered an anonymous question after her lecture. “Why is there such low inter-generational movement in the south?” She replied without hesitation, “because of slavery. It matches where most black americans live. It is the lack of opportunity.”

Morales claimed that achieving the American dream depends heavily on where you were born, and the wealth you were born into.

Napoleon argued that part of our American identity is what we do with our technology.

“Science is the engine of prosperity,” Napoleon said. “We live in the greatest time of history by any measure and this is driven by technology.”

She claimed that people believing conspiracy theories are jeopardizing this part of American identity.

“I lived for 26 years until I saw polio for the first time,” Napoleon said. “It was just something I read about.”

Despite their diverse fields of discipline they all spoke about the American identity being related to the American dream.