Natalia J. Garland
It has become popular to say that there are two Americas. I
disagree. There is one America with ever emerging applications
of our values and ideals. America is not perfect, but we strive
for greater realization of human rights and potential in the
complexity of our society. When I was in the fourth grade, we had
to memorize The Preamble of the Constitution of the United States
of America. Let's venture back to those school days and review
the Preamble from a post-9/11 perspective.
We the People of the
United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish
justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common
defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of
liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish
this Constitution for the United States of America.
In order to be
really American, it is essential to have an American
identity. When the Preamble refers to a more perfect
Union, this could indicate that the acquisition of an American
identity is developmental, a process of becoming, a reaching
toward greater levels of perfection individually and nationally.
To condemn and reject this identity because of imperfection, is
to propel oneself into an abyss of self-hatred. Self-hatred, in
turn, can only have divisive political consequences. It is
personal self-hatred, not national imperfection, that can drive
people into two Americas.
Notice that the
Preamble begins with the phrase, We the People. Another
necessary component to being really American is inclusion.
Perhaps the best way to be included in our society is to vote.
America is a country of free elections and, for the political
process to be effective, this requires citizen participation. Not
to vote, or not to be able to vote, is to risk losing the rights
and freedoms guaranteed under our constitutional government.
depend on having more than one political party. Although America
is traditionally a two-party system, third-party opposition can
make us aware of unmet needs or unrest among different groups of
people. The majority vote wins, but the minority continues to
have rights. Prejudice and discrimination may be American
realities, but these negative qualities do not represent our
ideals. This fact cannot be overstated.
The body of the
Preamble summarizes the responsibilities of being really American.
These responsibilities are all connected to allegiance. No
democracy can sustain itself without the loyalty of its citizens.
Promoting the general welfare of the people is a matter of
survival. Our laws and traditions are designed to affirm life
and to pass on the goodness of life to the next generation.
perhaps the most peculiar aspect of being really American. There
have been some people, such as the Navajo Code Talkers and the
Tuskegee Airmen, who demonstrated exceptional allegiance at a
time when they enjoyed very few benefits under our Constitution.
They were needed by their country and they answered the call. Let
us be worthy of the freedoms they secured for us. Complacency is
a deadly enemy in post-9/11 America. (Written 09/20/04: bibliography available.)
Until we meet