Jin is a senior at Harvard College, where he studies Molecular and Cellular Biology. Jin is an undocumented immigrant; his parents came here on a visa and over-stayed it. Our conversation covered how he has navigated being undocumented, the problems with the immigration debate, and how Harvard can better prepare its students as citizens. You can find more of Jin’s thoughts herehere and here.

Citizenship isn’t about papers. It’s about practices:

For a lot of people, citizenship is about papers. It’sa bout being a native-born U.S. citizen. For me, it’s not that. A lot of politicians say it’s not just about the papers that define citizenship. The question for me is, “Are you a part of the political union?”

I would say I am, because of the things I do. To me, you have to do things that demonstrate you’re a member of the country. I’ve done a bunch of things that show I want to do my part. One of the things I did until this year was direct a naturalization program that helped low-income people in Boston. It was called “Chinatown Citizenship.” People come to Harvard’s campus on Saturday’s and Sunday’s. We tutored them on how to pass the test. It’s practical, but we also engage with them on a more personal level. We want to understand the problems they face beyond the test.

The problems with the debate about immigration:

In the national conversation around immigration, we talk about it as a national security issue. Perfect example: “Secure the border.” Because we talk about immigration as a physical issue, it becomes associated with the Southern border. That’s why in people’s psyche they associate immigration with the people who came from Mexico and Latin America.

The immigration rights movement has also focused on a large, but limited part, of the demographic of immigrants. The media has not expanded the idea of the undocumented immigrant. People are seeing Mexican and Latin American immigrants over-and-over again.

People need to understand the truth. They need exposure to undocumented immigrants of all backgrounds.

The hardest parts of being undocumented:

It’s always hard because I can’t vote. I can’t participate in the political process. I can’t run for elected office. So, in some ways, the way I engage in civic life is my way of dealing with the fact that I don’t have political representation.

But there are more subtle ways it’s hard, too. I consider myself an American and a citizen. But if I went to some random place in the country, the idea that many people wouldn’t consider me to be a part of America, that they would be (questioning) whether I really belong here will always be something I have to dance around.

Why “illegal” doesn’t work to describe immigrants:

The first thing I’d say to people is let’s step away from the galley. The big problem a lot of people have with undocumented immigrants is we broke the law. And I get that. I agree with the rule of law. What I’m talking about is substantive legality – is it just to reject people who want to come here and make their lives and the country’s better? I want to change the conversation from whether people follow the laws to whether we have the right laws.

It’s really complicated. There are people who try to follow the law, come here legally on a visa, and then stay because of hard circumstances such as getting scammed by someone who would say they could help. The system doesn’t allow people to do this easily. I’m Korean, I’m undocumented. Your teacher, your doctor might be undocumented. We aren’t the caricature of the undocumented Mexican man crossing on a truck. Those people obviously exist. But it’s not a single story.

An “illegal” is not a thing. The idea of an illegal immigrant doesn’t make sense. When I was first told I was undocumented, I was called illegal, so I had an emotional response. Now, I think, “You don’t understand what you’re saying when you say that!” It’s not even a legally correct term. How can a person be illegal? A lot of people followed the law, over-stayed their visa, and committed a civil offense. It’s more similar to a civil offense like jaywalking than it is to committing a crime.

How things would change for him if he could be a legal citizen:

Everything would change. I would be able to get healthcare. I would be able to drive a car, vote, serve on a jury. All of these formal duties I want to be doing.

But I don’t think that my feeling of belonging would change. I have embraced the American ideals. I grew up here. From a subjective sense, not a lot would change. But so many people’s lives would change for the better with a pathway to citizenship. People could enter the job market more easily. That American promise – about creating a better future by working hard – is going unfulfilled for 11.5 million people. We would be better off if people had a pathway, because we would be living up to American ideals. It was one of our founding ideals.

But that’s just one part of the story. Our parents matter, too. Because they don’t offer as much economic benefit, they don’t get included in these conversations.

Whether Harvard is helpful to undocumented students:

If you talk to undocumented Harvard students, you’ll get a variety answers. My parents make less than the federal poverty line. So getting here and having Harvard pay for me is life-changing. It’s hard for me to say bad things about an institution that has changed the course of my life in a concrete way.

The students and faculty at Harvard are more supportive on this issue than I ever expected. My friends, peers, and professors are really supportive of me and understand that this is something I can’t control.

From an institutional sense, there are things that can be improved. There used to be a central administrator (and I think they’re hiring one now) who helps with undocumented students. But that’s not enough. Some schools in California have entire offices for undocumented students. It’s a space for all undocumented students to come and ask questions. We now have 85 undocumented students, so Harvard should think about creating more concrete resources like that.

How Harvard can better fulfill its mission to educate “citizens and citizen-leaders”:

We need to educate the “citizens and citizen-leaders for society.” That means you have to learn some things about how society does and should work! Harvard has the Gen-Ed system to do that. But it doesn’t function that way. I think Columbia does this a lot better. They have something called a core. They read the Western Cannon. People will complain about the cannon being white. But we can talk about that! Because Harvard has an amorphous thing that you can take what you want in, you don’t have to think about citizenship and society.

To accomplish that, we should have a required course, like expository writing. If you want to be a citizen and citizen-leader, you should have to tackle questions about society and your role in it.

What it means to be an American:

Being an American is understanding that there’s a challenge in your community, and doing something about it. But in addition, a big thing is that in America the condition of your birth doesn’t determine the outcome of your life. This idea of self-determination, that you’re the one who determines your destiny. That’s unique to America!

People don’t get it. When my parents moved here, after the South Korean financial crisis, they immediately thought of America. Why? People come here to build better lives. If we are Americans, we need to understand that people come here to improve their lives. We need to create laws and institutions that people are able to do that. That gets back to immigration. Most people came here to build better lives for themselves.

Obviously, the law is above everything else. But there’s a fundamental promise of America, that your race and gender shouldn’t determine your future. Are we allowing everyone that’s here to realize their goal, the real American goal of improving your life based on hard work, drive, and commitment?


Read more

Michael is a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania, where he studies Economics and International Studies. A staunch conservative who has spent his whole life in liberal circles, he has a strong sense of the thing that matters most to him: individual freedom. Our conversation covered his intellectual inspirations and his criticisms of the left – namely the belief in state-created parity. Regardless of your feelings about Michael’s ideas, I would highly recommend reading this article he wrote in The Federalist about receiving death threats for an opinion article he wrote in high school. I think it highlights how things have gone wrong with public discourse.

How he has been involved in politics:

By my definition, of being in engaged with what’s happening in the country, by identifying what principles that created American, and trying to engage in national politics and local politics, I think I’m a pretty good citizen. I do a lot of writing. I’ve been writing for school papers and other publications since 9th grade. I’m pretty interested and dedicated to writing political stuff. That’s how I engage with those values.

I’ve been involved in some campaigning, and some activism. But I have more of the mind of a writer, someone who explains ideas, rather than someone who comes up with a clever way to get their message across. I could do more direct activism.

Whether he thinks his peers are good citizens:

Many can identify values that ought to be forwarded. And they fight for those values. But I’d argue that they aren’t values that correspond to the founding of America. In fact, they’re in direct contradiction to the values of America. The left and the right are not fighting for the same principles.

What he sees as the core values on the left and right:

The founding values of America – and the ones conservatives are fighting for – are based in the Enlightenment and the Old and New Testament. The best description is aspirational individualism. Fundamental to this ideal are the freedom of speech and to hold guns. The Declaration and Constitution are some of the best documents in terms of limiting government power and limiting control.

Our country has also been directed by basic moral principles from the bible. There’s no argument in the bible that a fetus is not a child. Why does the fetus in the 24th week all of a sudden become a child? Freedom of choice is often just an excuse to eliminate an undesirable class in society. Given the amount people cared about the Old and New Testament back then, the fact that the Bible says, “God knows you in the womb” should be a guide for us.

(On the other hand), the liberal ethic is mainly parody. Today’s left wants to see people in society be equal. That value is not inherently in contradiction to founding values. It’s not in contradiction to the founding to fight for civil rights. Now the terms have been co-opted, however. Now, there’s no difference between men and women. Now, there can’t be difference in interests between groups or a difference in talents between individuals. It’s not possible to consider from ethic of parody that people might not want the same things. It doesn’t grant the individual the freedom to pursue what they want.

There are limits to freedom:

There are limits to that freedom, though. You use your freedom to forward American values when you think the system is going astray. So to kneel for the flag, to cast aside the system for which you’re fighting, doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t make sense to abandon the system.

His thoughts on college activists:

College students are far more dangerous than white nationalists. The KKK is 2,000 members nationally (note: the Southern Poverty Law Center estimates there are 5,000-8,000 registered members of the KKK). The people in Charlottesville had a permit. They have a right to march. College activists, though, don’t believe in free speech, and that’s the foundational civilization value. And recent polls show a lot of students feel this way.

How he thinks young Democrats could improve as citizens:

The average Democrat could be a better citizen by getting out of the echo chamber. I write these things, on the works of Rich Lowry, David French, and Heather McDonnell, and people are outraged as if they never hear these things. They read Salon and Slate. That’s what they base their views on. It’s difficult to have a debate with someone when your frames of reference are completely different. The average Democrat could add to their media consumption. But don’t watch Sean Hannity.

How young Republicans could improve as citizens:

The average young Republican is not a Trump acolyte. They should be careful with trolling. If you’re going to get liberals outraged, you shouldn’t border on being racist or misogynistic. People should focus more on ideas, especially since a lot of conservative ideas already are offensive to people.

The way our country should address its problems:

Maximizing the individual to the greatest extent possible is the best way to run society. The best way to fix issues in society, such as women being underrepresented on tech, is to focus on the individual. You don’t have to do mental gymnastics, or a massive intervention from the state. The left is out of ideas, so they cling to things that sound great but are divisive or unrealistic. The right has a chance to help individuals achieve their aspirations the best they can. Individuals are different and their aspirations are different, so we should’t try to make them all the same. Education is a great way to do this.

Read more

Dwayne Stenstrom is in charge of recruitment and retention at Sinte Gelska University. As my official host for the two days I was there, I had a chance to speak with him extensively about life on the Rosebud Reservation and at the university. Although I’ll write more about what I took away from my time on the reservation, I do want to say that it’s worth reading this interview in full. I suspect it’ll challenge your assumptions and understanding of the United States’ history and tribal culture. You can find the first two posts from my time in Rosebud here and here. You can also hear Dwayne talk about his experience growing up on NPR.

What it takes to be a good citizen:

I think one word that would sum it up is: be productive. Be a productive member of the environment you’re apart of. Do all that you can do to better the people around you.

Why he doesn’t vote in United States elections:

I guess in my world, I understand the concept of sovereignty and the makings of treaties. One of the things that I find is that if historically, if someone voted in a state or national election, it led to a conflict for the individual and the community. A treaty means two sovereign entities make a deal. So, I have my allegiance to my tribe first.

I’ve always felt that I had to be one or the other, either a tribal member or the citizen of the state. I always had to choose. I’m always going to be a tribal member. I dabble in the other world because I haven’t had a choice. Because of the experiences I’ve had over the years, I much prefer being a tribal member.

The American government wronged him and his family:

When I was eight years old, I was taken from my mother. And I was placed in a non-Indian home. At the time, I thought I would only be there for a few months. That few months transformed into twelve years.

I think about why all of that came to be. I don’t have any justification as to why they did that. It didn’t make sense to me back then, and it definitely doesn’t make sense to me today. One question I asked the government is whether there had been an adult male at home with me whether I would’ve been able to stay. The response I got was, “Yea, probably”. Ironically, I had two brothers who were serving in Vietnam. They would have qualified as adult males. But they weren’t in proximity because they were fighting for the country.

I did have an opportunity to reconnect with my mom ten years after I left her. We did have a little conversation about what went wrong. But I only got to know her for five months before she passed away. In a speech I gave in class, I talked about the little van that dropped me off. I kept waiting for it to come back. It never did.

Which is especially a problem, given the importance of family in tribal life:

I think what’s different between Native American culture and predominant American culture is the way people go about getting the basic things we all need. When I was in the home I was placed into when I was eight, I remember we went hunting one time and shot three dear. We had it processed at a meat locker. Their son came over later that week, and he was having a hard time and needed some help and some food. The dad basically said, “Get out there and make a living.”  And I was thinking, where I came from, it would’ve been different. We would’ve helped family and given food.

For example, one time, when I was still with my mom, I thought we were going to go somewhere on a trip. But then I saw my mom cooking, and was worried we weren’t going to get to go. But she told me she was cooking so that if someone stopped by, we could feed them. I still think about that till this day. Today, I lock my doors. When I was growing up we didn’t have to. My mom was going to leave food in our open house for anyone who needed it!

The things Americans need to know about tribal history:

One of the topics that is being talked about today is the Doctrine of Discovery (which allowed Christian conquerors to take all lands from non-Christians). When I started researching what that meant, I realized it did have a huge impact on the native community, and that it continues to today (the Vatican still has not rescinded the Doctrine).

Another part of history that has impacted me personally is the Indian Child Welfare Act (which was supposed to guarantee children would stay with their families). It’s still on the books, but it’s not used in a way that helps the community.

In 1997, the Adoption and Safe Families Act was passed. States look at the act as superseding the Indian Child Welfare Act, even though it’s not supposed to. Kids are being taken off the reservations and adopted out into other communities. People now ignore the Indian Child Welfare Act.

My wife and I signed up to be foster parents ten years ago. We had to take a training course. About the fifth week, I became offended – why was a non-Indian person treating me how to be a parent to an Indian child? Never once during the training was the Indian Child Welfare Act brought up, except for when I brought it up. When my wife and I became foster parents, we got only one call, then never heard from them again. Meanwhile, they’re saying they need more Indian foster parents! To me it’s ridiculous what’s going on there.

How he’d like non-indigenous Americans to interact with tribes and reservations:

I’d want predominant Americans to engage with the tribal community with a willingness to understand. We don’t need anyone coming over here to fix us or save us. We need them to want to understand. We have a language and a way of life that has sustained us forever. We don’t need people coming over here telling us how it can be improved. Respect our culture for what it is.

What he wants for people on reservations:

I guess awareness. People need to understand our true history. It’s not really talked about here. I teach general psychology, and I try to incorporate a lot of Native American thought into my classes. What I’m finding is that a lot of people are unaware of a lot ideas and teachings that should have been passed down generationally. But because the education system doesn’t talk about tribal history (since schools are run by the South Dakota government), our own people doesn’t see it as a priority.

Also, we need to have more self-responsibility. People here have to let themselves know that it’s okay to be who they are. We don’t have a lot of choices today on this reservation. This reservation has something like 85% of unemployment. A lot of people feel like there’s not really stuff for them to do. When I go out and cut wood, I cut wood for a lot of different people. If people knew that doing that chore would have value to a lot of other people, it would make workers feel better about themselves. A lot of people have the mentality of, “Why bother?” That mentality isn’t just around here. It seems like a lot of people have just given up.

It’s important for us to believe. We’re going to have our trials and tribulations. But it’s how we respond. At one point in my life, I gave up. I remembered something my grandfather told me: “Never blame anyone for the circumstance you find yourself in. Take responsibility for all that you do because once you start blaming, people have power over you.” I didn’t see myself as spiritual back then. When he was able to remind me of where I came from, I was able to see how the experiences I had made me the person I am today.

A story on the power of optimism:

I try to put it into a positive perspective, because the negative side of me is too negative. One of my favorite stories is about two boys. There’s a boy who’s pessimistic, thinks life will be terrible. They put him on a chair in the middle of a bunch of toys. They told him he could have whatever he wanted and then left for an hour. When they came back, he hadn’t moved. They asked him, “Why didn’t you play with anything?” He said, “I’m afraid I was going to break something.”

The next boy is an optimist. They take him to a room and put him in a chair, too. But surrounding him is manure. They tell him to have all the fun he wants and leave for an hour. When they get back, the boy is sitting in the corner and throwing the manure up in the air. They ask, “What are you doing?!” He said, “With all of this stuff in here, there’s bound to be a pony somewhere.”

The four values he lives by:

My grandfather had four values: Spiritual, Social, Political, Economic. He said always look at them in that order. I’m always grateful I have another day. I don’t have any guarantees that tomorrow will come. So I try to make my day as positive as I can. I also have a resource where I can go to and talk about the problems in my life. All of those things are a part of spirituality. By remembering everything you’ve been through, that’s what can keep you going.

Read more

This post is the second in a four-part series on my time at Sinte Gleska University (the first part is here). Marianne is a counselor there and lives in the Two Strike Community. Our conversation covered the relationship between the government and the Lakota, racism towards the Lakota, and how the Lakota are spiritual people.

The Lakota Way:

I respect myself. I respect others. And that’s the Lakota way. If you respect yourself and everything around you, you’re okay. That’s common sense. Don’t take things that don’t belong to you. Don’t talk down to someone. You do that, you’re a good citizen.

The biggest challenges facing the Lakota community:

The biggest challenge right now is the lack of respect for each other. That has a lot to do with drugs and alcohol that young people are using.

The parents are also not being parents. Another thing I see that is a big problem is technology. I go to the hospital, and mothers are sitting on their Facebook as their kids are running around and creating havoc. It’s addictive. I see it all the time. They’re constantly on it. Maybe they get away from it for twenty minutes. But then they go back to it. I see that in the future as one of the biggest problems.

The relationship with South Dakota’s government isn’t a good one:

The state (of South Dakota) has control over us because of the children. The food stamp program and others like it, the state runs. Our young people have to answer to the state if they want food stamps for their kids. The tribe used to control that at one time, it’d be great to have that again. But we don’t allow state patrol onto our reservations. They can’t come arrest us. One time I asked the store owners why we don’t have the federal lotteries here, then the state patrol can come over. We still fight for our jurisdiction. Our reservation used to be huge. The state gradually took it, though.

The relationship with the U.S. government is complicated:

The U.S. government has been in our lives as long as I can remember. Since they arrived, they’ve controlled us. But we now aren’t able to stand on our own two feet. This university is run by government money. Our hospital is federally funded. IHS is federally funded. Our school – St. Francis Indian School – is federally funded, and the other local school is state-run. The federal money is what makes this reservation moved. Almost all employment, except for the few stores, are all federally funded.

The government is obligated to help us. From their taking all the land, the treaties we made, they have to look out for our health. I want them to upgrade the hospital. Better education, too. I want the government to stand up to its commitment. They’re doing a half-assed job. They trickle the money down – “here’s this much” and by the time it comes down here, it’s minimal. Most of it goes to administration. The administration will tell us “next year’s money is already spent” because of helicopters and planes.

The Lakota face intense racism in South Dakota:

We are treated differently from the non-indigenous people. It’s about race. South Dakota is racist. It’s like Alabama. What black people suffer through down there, we go through here.

Our sports teams will go play places east of here, and the football team will sit in the crowd and say to our girls volleyball team, “Go home you perri n******.” That’s still happening here.

We’re both citizens, but they don’t care. It’s who we are. And it’s getting worse. With Trump saying it’s okay to act this way, okay to belittle someone with darker skin, it’s okay to march with the Nazi flags, I tell my kids, “Be careful when they go off to Sioux Falls or Rapid City. Don’t aggrevate people; you don’t know what they’ll do.”

In Rapid City, they shoot Natives, then ask questions, just like what happens to black people back east.

The great historical misconception about the Lakota:

That we were and are caring people. We weren’t savage and ruthless. Kinship meant a lot to us, and still does today. We cared about everyone around us. I wish that people off the reservation understood how we were.

Being spiritual was key to their way of life:

We were spiritual people. We had the inipi. They did that every day, the men. They went in and prayed their frustrations out. We pray in everything we do. When we have meetings or powwows, we pray. We looked out for each other. For the orphans and widows and old people. We were a caring tribe. We had vision quests. Sun dances. These ceremonies meant a lot to the families.

There was a certain time – when a girl came of age – and she’d be out in a teepee by herself for a week. The mother and grandmother would feed her and taught her how to be a young lady. She learned how to make moccasins and dresses. That’s one of the ceremonies we don’t do, and I think that’s why our young girls are lost.

Young men, when they were 12, had vision quests. They’d go pray for four days and figure out what they wanted to do with their lives.

We also had and have the hunka. We can take someone into the family. If someone feels like a brother, and you’ve lost someone, you can welcome someone to be like your brother. A girl can do that for her sister. A mother with her son.

The proper way to refer to her heritage:

I want to be called Sicangu Lakota. That’s who I really am. It’s one of the seven council fires. If referring to the tribes in general, I think “indigenous” is the best word. But people should refer to people properly and specifically. We’re referred to as Sioux’s! That’s the name the French gave us. It means snake people! We have to get that out of the books.

How people can better treat the Lakota and other tribal groups:

We were treated like less than human for the longest time. Even in the Declaration of Independence, we’re still referred to as “savage.” It’s hard.

(So) treat us with more dignity and respect. The president did a lot of harm. We worked a long ways to get racism out of people, even with us towards white people. We spent a lot of time with Valentine people, learning how to treat us with dignity and respect. Now people in Valentine feel like they can treat us ugly again. Now they feel like they can push me in the store, and if I say anything, they threaten to call the cops. I don’t know which white person to talk to in Valentine anymore. I just do my business and leave. It shouldn’t be that way.

Read more

Last Monday and Tuesday, I had the chance to spend time at Sinte Gleska University on the Rosebud Reservation (where the Lakota live). Of all the experiences I’ve had so far, it was the most eye-opening. This post series will consist of four posts: a conversation with a group of students, two individual interviews, and my reflection.

This first post is a conversation I had with four students at the university in a class on government. They all asked to remain anonymous, so they are just listed as Students 1 to 4. The conversation touched on people’s need to understand tribal history and the U.S. government’s shortcomings.

Whether they’re good citizens:

Student 1: I am because I’ve never been arrested.

Student 2: Yea, I think given all the negativity we live with, if we stay positive and obey the laws, that makes us good citizens.

Why voting is important:

Student 3: I think it’s important because every vote for counts. I vote for every U.S. election.

Student 2: Voting is important, whether it’s tribal or U.S. government, because it’s going to affect future generations. I wish kids from 18-35 would vote. It’s scary because a lot of this (politics) is based on the future, and young people don’t vote. For example, education cuts really hurt the reservation, and the only way to prevent them is to vote.

Student 4: People have to come together to help each other. We have to help each other survive. The political lifestyle isn’t for me. But I still vote because it’s important to guarantee people get what they need.

On whether they feel more “American” or “Lakota”:

Student 2: I don’t know how to answer it. I like being a Lakota, but when we don’t follow rules, I look to the U.S. for help.

Student 4: I don’t look at the identities as divided. We are all a part of the United States.

Student 3: I never saw them as different things; they’re both important to me.

They’re concerned about whether tribal history will endure:

Student 4: I had Lakota Culture this morning, and the professor has been with the university forever. He now has cancer. Him, and the other Lakota historian on campus, are both sick, and the tribe will lose a lot. They speak seven languages and know almost all of the cultures. Next fall, they’re going to get rid of Lakota history as a class, and it won’t be here for any of the younger generation. It’s kind of scary.

Student 2: But that’s where we come in. I grew up traditionally, speaking the language at home. We need to keep that history alive.

 The conversations about the Las Vegas were hard for them:

Student 2: I’ve seen on the news about Las Vegas. Nobody cared when our tribe was massacred. Nobody talked or talks about it. The younger Lakota talk about that shooting. But they should be going back to our own history and talking about what’s happened.

Teacher: When they said it was the biggest mass shooting on the news, I was like, “No it wasn’t.”

Student 2: That’s what I said! It kind of grew anger inside me.

Student 4: I think if they rephrased the way they talk about it, it wouldn’t be a problem. We’ve shown hatred toward people when we don’t pray for them; we know what happened at Wounded Knee. But we still need to show compassion for other people. We can’t show hatred just because they’ve worded things wrong.

The biggest challenges facing the Lakota Community:

Student 3: Alcohol, drug, abuse, domestic violence.

Student 2: Poverty.

Teacher: They all go together. But how do you pick one?

Student 2: The whole umbrella.

Their feelings towards the U.S. Government:

Student 3: I don’t like the government at all. I think not all of them are open-minded.

Teacher: I think it’s hard to feel represented in South Dakota. There are only 3 reps in Washington, and they don’t represent the whole state. They’re all very conservative; it’s hard to see how they help people who aren’t ranchers. People run cattle here, but it’s not ranching.

Student 4: Representatives skip over the reservations and parts of the state.

Student 2: The government could do more. If they want our voters, they should actually help. They should come to the reservation. I have friends from off the reservation who are afraid to come here. We have police and laws here! It just shows that people don’t care.

How they’d like the government and non-indigenous people to interact with the Lakota:

Student 3: People need to stop being racist towards us.

Student 4: Individual people should stop the labeling. What both people and the government could do is help with funding for homes, and treatment centers. Finding homes for our homeless.

What it means to be an American:

Student 1: Boundaries. The reservation has boundaries between what’s America and what’s the reservation. That’s what I’ve grown up and come to understand.

Student 4: To me, it’s about family. It’s about knowing the culture and history. It’s about having that growing up as kids, bonding with your family. Bring those together as who we are, whether we’re Native America or any other culture.

Student 3: I think America has a lot of diversity. We, as Americans, all live here together.

Read more

I had a chance to speak with Bob Driscoll, a former member of the Department of Justice during George W. Bush’s administration. Our conversation covered our duty to society, the limits of government, and what each side of the political aisle needs to learn. I also recommend reading an article he wrote on many of these topics for the New Boston Post.

What his family taught him:

My dad was a great citizen. My Grandad was a postman. My dad went to college on a military scholarship, then was in the Marines, and then became a lawyer. He asked us every night at dinner, “What are you going to do for society today?” He emphasized that it wasn’t about us. It was about the greater community. We did service at the church. My parents were active with setting up housing for Vietnamese refugees. There was always this notion that we had to be contributing something beyond our family unit.

He thinks American life has changed in the last twenty years:

Coming from a conservative perspective, I feel like because of maybe social media, or media saturation, people have lost any sense of limited government. Every problem today is a government problem. We place too much of our hopes in our federal leaders to fix our problems. That’s a cause of anxiety for both sides, depending on who’s in office. I read a piece from a psychologist that talked about how when we feel like we don’t control our lives, we are anxious. We have an outsized notion of any given impact that a federal leader has on them. People’s angst about their government is greater than the impact of the government itself.

I think what’s unique about the American experience is that we’re a society of negative rights, not positive rights. The Bill of Rights is a list of things the government cannot do to you. That’s good because it restrains government. But for others, it’s not enough. We don’t have a right to healthcare (at least legally speaking). People look to government to solve more problems, rather than the government setting the parameters by which government can solve your life.

How Democrats can improve as citizens:

People are so quick to go to motives these days. I think Democrats are, in general, a little bit quicker to do this. “If you don’t want gun control, you’re responsible for this shooting.” What I feel like saying is, “If someone calls you a baby killer, is that gonna make you pro-life?” Are you ever going to say, “I’ve never thought about it that way! Now that you put it that way, I’m going to change!” It’s the late night comedy phenomenon: everyone who disagrees with me is stupid.

How Republicans can improve:

Conservatives put things too simplistically sometimes. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Just because political correctness can bother you doesn’t mean you should be an a**hole. Pissing the right people off and being an a**hole has become a substitute for ideas. I’m halfway to the point that thinking that this is all about culture. I joked to a friend, “If Trump nationalized the energy industry overnight, no one would care so long as he tweeted something insulting about Rosie O’Donnell.”

What he thinks the average Democrat and Republican would say about one another:

It kind of depends what you mean by average. The average, meaning we randomly pick someone out of the phone book, you would think people of different political leanings are good citizens. In the real world, people aren’t that politically active, nor do they care that much about others’ politics.

But among politically active people, I don’t think they’d say people of the other side are good citizens at all. Republicans would say Democrats are f***ing communists who want the government controlling everything. And Democrats think all Republicans are racist bigots who are secretly Bull Connor.

What he’d say to a Trump voter:

To the average Trump voter, I’d say anger, even justifiable anger, is not a policy. Think about what governing means instead of just making a statement.

What he’d say to a Clinton voter:

To the average Democratic voter, I’d say get outside the bubble and make an effort to understand religious people. There’s a not unfounded perception for religious people that there’s no place for them in the Democratic Party.

Religion has informed his ideas about society:

We don’t have the idea that “if we had the right policy in place, we can fix this.” Policies help on the margins. But religious people see the sin of man. I understand that government can’t fix that. Understanding their value in the world brings them happiness. People who are more secular, democratic, liberal think “if only we could do this thing, it’d be great.” It still won’t work. Someone will take a bribe. Someone will fall on hard times. Someone will become an alcoholic.

What it means to be an America:

It just means to live in America and benefit from the freedom of structure of government. America needs people with those values of freedom and equality. But you can be a communist in America, and you’re no less American.

The thing that concerns him most about American politics:

I’m constantly amazed that no one has written about all the things that happen with (politicians’ finances). Maybe it’s because everyone is a part of the game. Bernie Sanders has been in government for 40 straight years and has three house. Same with Harry Reid. He only ever worked in government, and now he owns a suite in the Ritz. Ted Stevens, a Republican from Alaska, was investigated for corruption. His defense was two million bucks. That’s way more than he made in his career.

Read more

I had a chance to sit down with a couple in Sioux City who voted differently from one another in this election. Our conversation covered leadership, industry’s importance, and Trump’s appeal. Because the husband is an active duty member of the military, and the conversation covers his voting preferences, I am keeping their identities anonymous. His comments are labeled “G” and hers are “H.”

He views citizenship nationally, whereas she views it locally:

G: I’m a good citizen of the United States. I volunteered to do something for our country that a lot of people don’t do. You could donate your time to the Red Cross here, or in Texas or Puerto Rico. It’s not like being in the Air Force here is different from elsewhere – we’re helping American people just the same.

H: I don’t think I contribute significantly to the community that we’re in right now. Volunteering your time, and making yourself known in the community is good citizenship. I don’t really do that, but that might be because I live in a new community. It’s hard to get a foot in the door. When you don’t really know people, it’s hard to be a good citizen.

On Sioux City’s Challenges:

G: I feel like there needs to be something for people our age.

H: It’s a lack of opportunity.

G: If you’re not willing to work in a packing plant, or a blue-collar job, and work your way up like my dad, who did it by sacrificing his body, (there’s not a ton to do). You’re hoping that by working your ass off for 20 to 30 years, you can have the last fifteen years in an office. But either way, by the time you’re 65, your body is shot. Continue reading Leadership and Industry

Read more

Brisa is twenty-one, living in Dubuque, Iowa. As an employee for her family’s business, Shaggy’s Flea Market (pictured above), and at Hotel Julien in Dubuque, she sees jobs as the key to civic life.

Her key to citizenship:

I believe I’m a good citizen. I don’t cause any trouble, commit any crimes, or bother any people. I just live. I feel like certain areas of Dubuque have good citizens; there’s no crime. There are others I wouldn’t even walk down the street because of the crime.

Basically, good citizenship is about not breaking the laws and not disrespecting anyone.

She’s not a fan of current protests:

I don’t see the protesters right now, like the ones in Missouri, as good citizens. And I don’t support the NFL protests. The flag doesn’t stand for Donald Trump. It stands for all the people who have fought and died for this country. People have stood for the anthem for forever. Now all of a sudden the flag is an issue? I don’t think that’s good citizenship. Continue reading Jobs and MAGA Hats

Read more

Taj is a Sudanese refugee, now living in Dubuque, Iowa. He became a citizen ten years ago, and he works for the Dubuque city government. Our interview covered topics ranging from the immigration system to what he sees as the core American values.

On his experience as a refugee:

I am a former refugee. I came in May, 2000. I came from Lebanon, and I am originally from Sudan. I arrived in Salt Lake City, and it was a culture shock.

I think that I learned what it means to be an American from the people in Salt Lake. Yes, I was on government programs. But what made a difference was the community. The people who helped with my language and taught me to navigate the system were amazing. There was a sense of belonging because of the people around me. It was tough – in six months, I had to speak English and find a job in six months to meet the government’s expectations. Some of my friends struggled to do that. The people who excelled were connected to the community, not just the government. Continue reading Coming to America

Read more

Terri is the owner of a Christian candle shop in Waukesha, WI. Our interview covered the importance of God’s plan and listening.

How she’s involved in her community:

I work a lot with the non-profits. I’m on the downtown Waukesha Business Foundation and am involved with the Waukesha Farmer’s Market. Also, I serve on a committee that plans family friendly events.

God has impacted her as a citizen:

I do believe that the Bible is the true, inspired word of God. I try to live according to what God tells us. That relationship with God adds a dimension to things. It requires me to have patience, to be a good listener. The biggest part of communication is listening and not judging others. I try to do that, to understand other people’s life experiences. God makes you look at things in a different way. It’s not about me. It’s about something bigger than me. Continue reading God’s Plan

Read more