A Lack of Stories:

As I walked to the train tracks after my first interviews in Philadelphia, I thought long-and-hard about what I learned. For all of the talks about polarization and political decay, people were relatively optimistic about themselves, others, and our country. Most people mentioned caring about their community. But there was one question that the first eleven people all felt uncomfortable or unsure answering. Very few people could confidently tell me a story in which someone exemplified good citizenship.

Alarmed, I thought about why this was. Did people just not think about it? Or, maybe, we don’t celebrate great citizens enough? Or was it something else entirely? Continue reading Start Small, Engage Others

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Born in India and registered as a New Zealand citizen, Ajay has lived in America for two years. Given his wide range of experiences in America and the world, I thought his interview would be a good one to share. Below are excerpts from our conversation, with edits made for clarity.

On why he is a good member of American society:

Yes, I am a good member of American society. I respect the laws, and I am an equal opportunity person. I don’t believe in racism. Creed, caste – nothing. I am a peace-loving person.  I am very driven by business, and the values of creativity and capitalism that America is so known for. Continue reading “Creativity and Capitalism”

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Of the eleven people I spoke to in Philadelphia, eight of them mentioned freedom as key to being an American. Although I’ve only covered one city so far, freedom was so important to people I felt I needed to write about it. Jordan, a nineteen-year-old, twice mentioned the freedom to pursue what you want as the foundational aspect of being a good American. Meanwhile, Jenna talked about belief in free democracy as a foundation for citizenship. Trump supporters, third-party voters, and Clinton fans all agreed: freedom is essential to America and Americans.

Individual Freedom:

But people used the idea of freedom in two distinct ways. The first is what I would describe as the ability to pursue one’s dreams. Jordan said being an American means “taking advantage of whatever this country has to offer you.” He saw himself and his friend as an American because they traveled across the country for college and used financial aid to get the best education possible. Meng Ting likewise said that Americans can be “whatever they want to be” and do “whatever it is that helps themselves and help others.” Continue reading Freedom, Individual and Collective

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“My husband gave a perfect example of how to be a good citizen. He ran for office because  there was something we didn’t think was quite right (the doubling of taxes), and wanted to do something about it. In that case it was to maintain the status quo, but to keep it good for other people in the town. So he ran. And he won.”

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Jordan is a nineteen-year-old college student. His parents immigrated to the United States from the Philippines, and he grew up in Florida and California. Below are his thoughts on being an American:

On why he is a good citizen:

I’d like to think that I am. I feel like by other people’s standards I might not be. But by my standards, I am. Because I really appreciate being in the United States. I love this country. There’s nothing I do in particular, but I do feel like I live like I love the United States. I am out here trying to get an education, which, living off financial aid and getting an education, is a pretty American thing.

On why his neighbor is a good citizen:

My neighbor has taken advantage of everything that this country has to offer. He has moved across the United States to get an education. He’s taking advantage of the freedom that this country offers, too. Continue reading “A Love of America”

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“Even though I am a liberal, I think that there are a greater proportion of conservatives who are good citizens than there are liberals. I think that conservative distrust of government institutions and belief in community institutions helps them work together towards a shared community vision in a way that many liberals don’t embody…Liberals underestimate how important that vision and those communities are.”

Matt, Philanthropic Advisor

To be an American in one word? Freedom. Freedom to be whatever you want to be. And do whatever it is that benefits yourself and benefits others.

Meng Ting, Graduate Student