July 4, 2007
What does it mean to be an American, especially on the Fourth of July?
One of the pleasures of writing this blog is the chance to learn about a lot of things, not just of topics I knew I didn’t know, but of others things I didn’t know I didn’t know. For example, just now, in writing this introduction, I started with, “One hour from now the fireworks will begin at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.” Since I wanted to briefly describe what the all-day event would include, I looked it up on Google.
That’s when I discovered that in addition to the Pasadena POPS Orchestra musical tribute to the USA (with a military fly-over and a $200,000-plus fireworks display), there would be a special appearance by the 5 Browns playing 5 Steinway grand pianos simultaneously. I’d never heard of the “5 Browns” so I again went to Google and read about these five talented siblings. If you don’t know about them either, look them up and get a sample of their work. I heard them through NPR’s Fred Child with a performance in Studio 4A.
Let me get back now to the purpose of this post. You see, across the country there are picnics and swimming, speeches and parades, bands and fireworks, and a lot of flag waving. (Incidentally, the flag above is one that flew over Fort McHenry when we visited a few years ago.) For each person who participates in any of the traditional July 4th activities or who simply stays home and enjoys the day, there is something expansive about the holiday, something that says, this is the day we celebrate being who we are.
If that’s the point of the day, then this is a good time to consider what exactly makes someone an “American.” We have more than enough conflicts to keep Congress from making progress on important issues like the immigration, but even as divided as we are, something holds us together. The questions below encourage you to explore the glue that unites this divided country.
If you are reading this and you aren’t an American citizen, it would still be interesting to see what you believe “being an American” means. Is it possible for you to separate our politics from our other characteristics?
EXPLORING SOCIAL AND POLITICAL ISSUES
What does it mean to be a citizen of the United States?
Are there any obligations to being a citizen, other than obeying the law?
What is the most important characteristic of an American?
What holds America together?
Do you believe there would be a greater connection between people in the United States if we were all required to do some level of public service?
With an increasingly global economy and an ever more diverse culture, is it possible to have a nation where there is a strong bond between people? If so, how could that be accomplished?
I believe it is important to recognize that as Americans we are related to one another. We may not look alike and we may not think alike, but there’s something in our culture, in our country, that does unite us. Otherwise, we wouldn’t make a relatively peaceful transition from one administration to the next, even when sharp divisions keep us arguing every day. Just what is this “something” that keeps us together and can we build on that “something” so that all Americans will be better off (and the world as well)?
Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia