M.Antonini, 11th - New York, NY
“Big cars, weapons, fast food and Big Gulp menus are frequent.”
“In general, Americans are generous, open, and friendly, but prefer their own culture.”
“The attractive lifestyle is portrayed by Hollywood and copied around the world.”
“Talk loud and have limited knowledge of the rest of the world. Unless there is a serious conflict, then they can arrive with the cavalry with Bruce Willis in command with blazing guns and save the day.”
These are just a few of the things non-Americans I spoke to noted as identifying features of America. Many of those ideas, such as an emphasis on consumerism and self-promotion are facets of American culture that many who live in the U.S. carry with pride. But do those ideals truly represent the future that America should be striving towards?
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To be an American means something different to everyone. To some, it means obstinately believing that everything dubbed to be wrong within it can be excused. To others, it means wanting it to embody a set of ideals once promised and fighting for a place they see as not only possible, but ineffably urgent. Sometimes critiquing America and the systems in place within it are met with critics, people who claim to love their country unconditionally. But is it truly loving your country if the moment it is met with criticism your first instinct is to deny it, to dream for it to stay the same, to never evolve, to never include everyone? Is it truly love if it only supports the flag, but not all the people who form the country it represents?
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On July 4, 1776, the Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence and announced their separation from Great Britain. It was a day of celebration with bells and band music, the genesis of a new beginning, a chance to become a nation that was different from where they had come from, free of tyranny and mistreatment. But that escape from tyranny and mistreatment only applied to some, and to different degrees. For others, it didn’t apply at all.
On July 4, 2020, after the murder of George Floyd on May 25 the same year, at the hands of a police officer, conversations spurred regarding racism in America, both institutionally and culturally. However, these conversations were not new. As many signs during protests read, “the same bell has been ringing since 1619, and now you choose to listen”. However, it is pertinent to not only condemn social justice issues but actively work to solve them. As Matthew Zapruder’s essay titled “A Poem for Harm” states, “A mere willingness to bring an explosive issue forward (especially one that does not directly affect you) is not the same as an actual acceptance or responsibility or even culpability.” For many white Americans, pretending problems don’t exist and hoping that they will going away simply through waiting, is a privilege. To them, ignoring the problem is easier than working to fix it, as ignorance does not require the consciousness that action would force them to possess: a resolute self-awareness. But just because a problem has never faced an individual personally, it does not mean that it is not a part of their country’s history. A full picture of history would include every detail about every person, event, place, and thought, and even if one of those things does not directly affect everyone, it is still a part of a collective history and therefore contributes to a collective responsibility to strive for fairness and equality.
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I am a first-generation American. My mom and dad both were born and raised in Europe, Sweden and Italy, respectively, and moved to the U.S. in their teens to continue their studies. I spent summers with my grandmothers in Rome and Stockholm, learning about other cultures that shaped my parents and ultimately me. I am often struck by the people there, the spirit of joy that pervades nearly all aspects of life, how similar yet different it was than being home. It was always interesting to hear how people described America when I visited. When I was younger a lot of it was related to the commercial chains that developed in the cities, like McDonalds and Burger King, and the sheer size of American creations from cars to fridges. It often sounded like a combination of awe and bewilderment, but over the years, as I got older, it shifted to politics, to Trump, and to the immediate need for change. To many, and understandably so, watching American news was like watching a horror/reality TV show that for some reason never cut to a commercial break.
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There is something to be said about loving your country, maybe even just liking it, but is it really love, if you don’t want it to change, to become better? Is it truly unpatriotic to teach kids in schools about the complete history of their country, even the bad parts? When you go the doctor, do you not tell them about your pain because you are worried that they will try to fix it? No, of course not, because you know that it needs to be fixed, because something is hurting, and it will only get worse if nothing is changed. There is nothing more revealing of a person’s love for their country than their wanting to make it better and continuously evolve. As novelist James Baldwin once said, “I love America more than any other country in the world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”
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Johari Osayi Idusuyi, a twenty-three year old writer and student at Lincoln Land Community College in Springfield, Illinois, decided to attend a Trump Rally in 2015 with three friends, with the intention of listening to the Republican nominee and determining for themselves what to make of him. “We tried to take an unbiased stand,” she says, but eventually things took a drastic turn; protesters arrived at the rally inciting reactions from both the ralliers and Trump. Idusuyi notes, “I don’t think Trump handled it with grace. I thought, ‘Oh, you’re really not empathetic at all.’ That’s when the shift happened.” Unable to get up from her seat and leave due to her being placed in the stands directly behind the camera, she decided to read the book she brought with her: Citizen by Claudia Rankine. “I’m not going to waste my time listening to somebody whom I can’t respect anymore, so I started to read,” she recalls. So there she sat, peacefully reading Rankine’s book, a moving and poignantly relevant story about the reality of racism in America and the immense emotional toll it takes on black Americans. A few moments later, a couple seated behind her tapped her on the shoulder and and crassly remarked, “‘If you don’t wanna be here then leave. You didn’t even stand for the Pledge of Allegiance,’” to which Idusuyi replied, “‘Did you not just see what happened? This person disrespects women, minorities, everybody and you’re still supporting him. He’s not saying anything of substance.’”
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“I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all,” declares the 1892 Pledge of Allegiance. Working towards creating liberty and justice for all is what constitutes love for a country, a love for its people. Without that hope for the future, the Pledge of Allegiance and all other American traditions cannot truly serve their purpose. If not supported by action and a willingness to affect change, these affirmations remain empty words. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg once said, “A constitution, as important as it is, will mean nothing unless the people are yearning for liberty and freedom.”
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Students 6th-12th Grades