A feeling of freedom
In one document lies many promises, many dreams.
Pride and thankfulness
When I read your request for essays about what it means to be an American, I wondered how to express my feelings of pride for this country and thankfulness to those who have always fought for the freedoms we are so fortunate to have.
Still thinking about this the next day, I mentioned it to my English as a Second Language student, who immediately voiced an emotional response. Although she became an American citizen 28 years ago and speaks fluent English, Chong Wallace was busy raising five children and as many of us do, always put herself last. It took an enormous amount of courage for her to come forward to learn to read and write English, but she is determined to succeed because she feels that everyone in this country is so privileged to be here. Her letter is attached. It certainly speaks volumes.
God bless the U.S.A.
Barbara M. Carcasio
I am proud to be American. I came here from Korea 28 years ago. People who are born American can be anything they want to be. Anybody can go to school. I am so lucky I can go to school to learn to read and write. I thank God I can learn here and for the freedom I have.
Chong Hui Wallace
Diversity of religion
What it means to be an American?
"Hindu Gods must like me, for they have sent me to America." Many a time this thought has amused me while driving on the great American highways, in a great American car. For 34 years of my migrated life in the United States, that's all I have been driving - cars made here. No Japanese or German stuff for this proud, second-class, naturalized citizen of the U.S.A.!
However, it's not the luxury or high-tech conveniences that mean the most to me as an American. I value my Americanness as a life with people of diverse backgrounds. Because here, in the United States, I have become a better Hindu. America has helped me to live the true principles of Hinduism: One God, worshiped by many in many ways, just as entire creation is born of the One Supreme Being.
Where could have I attended the services, such as in Bahai temples, several sects of Christian churches, Jewish synagogues, Muslim mosques, Buddhist monasteries and, of course, all sects of Hindu temples and ashrams? America has helped me to transcend all the faiths to grow spiritually. So you see, here in America, even the sky is not a limit - that's what being an American means to me.
Also, it's a privilege to be an American, and though it makes me humble, this privileged life doesn't come free. It hands over responsibilities - the responsibility of sharing and caring. I must share and care. I must do that locally, nationally and globally. God has been kind to me by making me a part of America; and as an American, I should be kind to His world. That's what being an American means to me.
Part of what it means to be an American today is to be part of a nation with enormous responsibilities, to realize them and accept them. Now that the United States and its coalition partners have successfully militarily ousted Saddam Hussein from power, there is a unique opportunity to influence the political makeup of the entire Middle East. If we could help democracy take root in Iraq, this could serve as a beacon and model for many of the other countries in the region.
In trying to establish democracy, we need to keep in mind that we are dealing with a population in a country that has little experience with democracy or the rule of law. Of course, we will need to establish law and order and to invest in the economic infrastructure. A high priority should be placed on investing in a public educational system as well. We have seen what can happen when governments are unable or unwilling to properly fund public schools. I would point to the radical madrassas in Pakistan that do not teach any of the normal academic subjects. Many of the former Taliban leadership were "graduates" of these schools. Parents who live in poverty recognize that education is the best vehicle to help their children rise from that poverty. For many, madrassas are the only schools available. Islamic militants have been very busy filling the void, creating a whole generation of minds filled with intolerance and hate.
We now have a unique opportunity to start a whole new public educational system where the students will be taught to have an expectation of democracy. We should set up a department of education that licenses, screens and trains teachers. It would also set up guidelines for a rigorous curriculum that will prepare students to successfully enter the new economy and create a generation of citizens that would have an expectation of democracy. This is critical; if there is no expectation of democracy in the population, the result may be a theological autocracy ruled by the mullahs as in Iran today.
A strong public-school system would earn public support from families within Iraq; teachers' salaries would help to get the economy of Iraq moving again while their presence in the classroom would instill democratic values within their students.
©Copyright 2003, The Philadelphia Inquirer (PA, USA)
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