While traveling across the world as an officer in Greece’s merchant marines, Ioannis Mansalis met his now-wife, Roberta, in Philadelphia. At the ambitious age of 23, Mansalis permanently moved nearly 5,000 miles from his home country of Greece to settle down in his wife’s home country.
Although Mansalis will always be fond of his Greek roots, he has endless love and pride for America, the country where he sees great freedom and cultural diversity.
As he created his new life in the U.S., he saw several differences between America and Greece. Mansalis is passionate about the freedoms given to American citizens, such as choice-oriented education. In Greece, students would apply to general exams to be told what educational and career path to follow.
There was also an overwhelming sense of religious influence in Greece that did not sit well with Mansalis, leading to his appreciation for America’s freedom of religious diversity. Mansalis and his wife made sure to raise their children without an inclination to any religion, but rather incorporated positive parts of different beliefs to let them find their own path in life.
“I think we did good with that. Both of our kids had a choice… I believe in choices.”
By having the freedom to live his life the way he wants has made Mansalis fond of American life and lead him to believe it to be an incredible country.
A Dream of Freedom and Choice… and Culture
The “American Dream” has been widely defined as a hope of freedom, success and opportunities that can be obtained through American living. This ideal is one that has lead countless foreign-born individuals to the United States.
However, this dream is not fully respected through the eyes of American-born citizens. Many of these people believe that immigrants take away from their own opportunities, as well as degrade “American culture.”
But would “American culture” be anything that it is now if it wasn’t for the foreigners who have become our fellow Americans?
Although the “American Dream” is set in terms of personal gain, time has added a track to the path of immigrants: a coming together of cultures. Immigrants see America as a salad bowl, rather than a melting pot, in which each cultural identity in America is recognized and is one ingredient in the larger “salad bowl” of America.
For example, Mansalis believes that America is where the “treasures” from all walks of life can come together and create a nation of collective diversity.
And he isn’t the only immigrant who sees America this way. In a video for the Carnegie Corporation of New York’s annual “Great Immigrants” project, the narrator states “We’ve welcomed immigrants from countries all over the world and we’re enriched by all those distinct cultures.
“They have shaped the American culture and it’s a remarkable legacy we have as a nation.”
The video highlights the story of Claudius Zorokong, a refugee from Sierra Leone who is now an American citizen. Zorokong is a hardworking, opportunistic, and eager to learn individual with a career in American politics.
He began his work for congresswoman Niki Tsongas, who explained that “Claudius’s story is a wonderful story, but thankfully it is not unique. I see it over and over and over again… [Immigrating to America] requires hard work… and once here, those who do come take advantage of [opportunities] and in so doing make great contributions to our country.”
These contributions range from the tangible work and actions of immigrants, to the impalpable cultures and beliefs they possess; all of which make America the country that it is today. Immigrants vividly recognize this aspect, and are proud that diverse peoples bring more ingredients to the American salad bowl.
David Zhang, a first generation Amercian and former student ambassador for One World Education, wrote a piece on the subject of being proud to be American. He emphasizes an eye-opening trip he took to China, his parents’ homeland.
“After observing how highly the kids—and adults—in China thought of America, I was [sic] started to become proud to be an American.”
This is the immigrant pride in America that is fueled in part by a deep love for America’s culturally diverse state that Mansalis expressed. Zorokong and Zhang, along with most other immigrants, might just agree with Mansalis when he said that “[America] is the country that [he] like[s], it’s where [he] want[s] to be. It is the best country.”