This week, the Newswire asked, “What does it mean to be American?” Four students responded.
For 12 years of my life, I started every single school day by pledging my allegiance to the stars and stripes. But those words were empty, routine, monotonous. Never once did I give a thought to what “one nation under God” actually stood for or what my responsibilities were to the country I called home.
The Pledge of Allegiance contains just 31 words, and those brief words give us only one clue to how we become the Americans our founders wanted us to be. The Pledge simply asks that we create a country with liberty and justice for all.
No stipulations are made on this pledge.
We don’t say these words and promise only to protect the liberty and justice of natural-born citizens, of Christians, of adults or of English-speakers. Regardless of color, creed, religion, language, ethnicity, sexual orientation, ability, gender, age or political party, the America we create is a nation with liberty and justice for all.
That’s why I believe that the first component of being an American is celebrating the diversity that makes us strong.
The second component is recognizing and respecting the dignity of all people, or respecting “the Republic, for which it stands.”
Wherever our flag flies, those it flies over are people created equal. No one has more rights than anyone else, and no one can strip the humanity from another person. Being an American means recognizing the abuses of power we fight against and lifting our neighbors up so that we may never become a country of tyrants.
Instead, Americans believe in creating a country with liberty and justice for all.
However, liberty and justice can only exist in a country where equity also exists. Americans believe that liberty is freedom — the ability to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and to work hard and work together for both individual and national success.
But not all Americans have this liberty. Those of us who speak a language that isn’t English or have skin that isn’t white or have parents who are poor don’t have bootstraps (or even boots) to pull up. Across our country, immigrant, Black, Latino, poor White and LGBTQ+ communities don’t have access to liberty because they’re too busy fighting to survive.
This isn’t justice. This isn’t America. Being ok with this system isn’t what it means to be an American.
Being an American isn’t about knowing the words to a pledge. It’s about living those words every single day in the hopes that our children will live in a country that celebrates diversity, respects human dignity and ensures liberty and justice for all.
Being an American means seeing the wrongdoings in our history and fighting to prevent them in our future. It’s about never being satisfied with our great nation until it’s great for every person who calls America home.
Being an American is pledging allegiance to a flag that stands for diversity, equity and a commitment to creating a country that embodies it.
Sam Peters is a junior Philosophy, Politics and the Public and economics double major from Aurora, Ill. She is the President of Xavier College Democrats.