A Nation Engaged: What It Means To Be An American

Nov 16, 2016

This week, WNIJ is participating in a national week of conversation along with other NPR Member stations in an enterprise we call A Nation Engaged.

We’re asking this question:  “What does it mean to you to be an American?”

We asked community members how they feel about this question and what advice they have for the presidential candidates to help them achieve their goals of truly feeling like a part of the country.

Emily Moody, Plainfield, Ill.

"Being an American means multiple things.  I mean what I personally love about America is the freedom to be an individual.  I come from a country that doesn’t really have these rights.  I’m from Kazakhstan, so when I came here to America when I was around 6, I didn’t really understand the concept of how free we were.  But around age 16, in my classes, we would talk about the Bill of Rights and how Americans have the right to voice their own opinions and not be penalized against that.  And so I really like that concept.

"I am also a political science major. I just feel very drawn to the concept of America and how they present their freedom to their civilians and citizens. 

Aaron Briggs, Country Club Hills, Ill.
 
“To be an American, it's kind of a two-fold thing. So it's great on one end and troubling and agonizing on the other. So as far as on the latter end of being troubling and agonizing, it's like we live in a country where it's all about the dollar. It's all about putting numbers on bodies and 'commodifying' lives and things like that. We live in one of the like supposedly greatest nations and they have and yet we still have poverty and like it’s a big deal. Like we still have people who can't eat. We have children who can't eat. We have a disease called racism going through and all of this. We have a class system. Even though they try to sell this vision of it being the home of the free and all is that other stuff. 

“I want a candidate who truly believes in the vision that was put in front of us when this nation was built and that's freedom of justice for all. Not just for the highest bidder and not just for who has the most lobbyist, or anything like that, but for everybody. ”

Nicholas Glawe, Winnebago, Ill.

“I think if a presidential candidate had the slogan of, let's make, I don't know, this is not exactly what it would be but, ‘let's make the people great again’ and emphasizing human development and self-growth. I think that would make me feel more appreciated because then with self-human development/growth, we can learn to appreciate everyone around us. Then I would honestly feel like I live in the land of freedom where I could be who I am and people wouldn't have to feel judged for being who they were naturally born as.”

David Paulson, Genoa, Ill.

“For me, it’s very interesting and unique because when I was 25, I started to travel extensively. I began in Austria and Italy and after my first trips, then the rest of my travels were either in Spain or Latin America and each country I lived in and worked in, I worked with their governments. Not necessarily as an American, certainly I was an American citizen, but I was working there as a representative of a non-governmental organization called 'The Center for Global Education' and so I was a global educator was really who I represented. I represented education and represented a global view of education and so my view of myself as an American was very much colored by my view of myself as an American educator as I traveled abroad.

“I always, throughout my travels, whether I was in a big modern city in South America or in a rural, impoverished location in Central America, I always tried to bring the viewpoint of an American from a rural community but our rural communities are not disconnected.

Gabriella Rodriguez, Rockford, Ill.

“What it means to be an American to me is to have the opportunity to develop as an individual, to develop in many opportunities that are available in this country."

Willie Watson, Rochelle, Ill.

"To be an American, to be free, to have a democracy, to have choices of my own. To have a government that was established and run and be a patriot."

Shobhit Srivastava, international transfer student, India

"Over here we have a lot of freedom to speak our minds."

Join the conversation with @wnijnews at #nationengaged

  • Interviews conducted by graduates of WNIJ's Public Radio 101 program: Patrick DeGeorge, Scott Desavouret, Michelle Kittling-Brewer, Elizabeth Liebentritt, Loreal Patterson, and Alexandria Wilks
  • Editing by Jenna Dooley, Susan Stephens, and Victor Yehling