Family has always been an important aspect of my life, as it is for many people. Family influences who each individual person becomes and what they believe. My family is a great example of this; I have been shaped by my parents and grandparents into who I am today, and they were affected by their own parents and grandparents. However, each of us has unique beliefs about what it means to be a good American and about America itself. Although family is a significant factor in determining one’s American creed, individual experiences are more influential. I interviewed six different members of my family: my maternal grandparents, my paternal grandparents, and my step-grandparents. Despite the similarities between several opinions, everyone has a set of American ideals different from each other’s and from my own. The time periods each person has lived through, the places they have been, and the personal life experiences they have had all affect their viewpoint, creating distinct perspectives in spite of family ties. My mother’s parents, Bill and Liz, have both lived in the small towns of the South for their entire lives. They married when my grandmother was just 19 years old, and they have spent 49 years together. According to her, a good American “should work hard, be kind to others, and believe the best in people until a particular person proves by his or her actions or words that he or she is unworthy of our trust.” Since she was able to attend college to become a teacher because of government loans, my grandmother values “the freedom to live our dreams” and the way America tries to provide economic assistance to those who need it. She also stated, “I listen to the news, and every day it's the same: angry people expressing hate for others...We had more riots and destruction in the sixties, and many things are better now than it was then. Yet it seems our country is more divided and everyone is so easily offended about everything.” My grandfather, on the other hand, expressed his concern about the decline in American pride and values. “We are not a country under God. We don’t respect authority or other people. We feel we are entitled,” he explained. “When I was a little boy, we were considered the best in all areas. In my high school and college years, things began to change.” Although he appreciates the “freedoms we enjoy and the opportunities that go with them,'' my grandfather worries that Americans refuse to accept that they could be wrong and thinks we must improve on “understanding that our boundaries end where the boundaries of others begin.” While they have lived in the same family through the same major historical events and share some general beliefs as a result, my maternal grandparents have distinctly individual perspectives of America based on the different experiences they had as children and young adults. While my grandmother focuses on the positive change Americans have experienced since the 1950s, my grandfather believes that the overall state of America has worsened.
Larry and Donna, my father’s parents, met at Abilene Christian College after my grandmother spent her childhood in rural Texas and after my grandfather’s upbringing in Ohio. My grandfather believes, “An American need not always agree with his neighbors or look like his neighbors, but he or she ought to respect the values of the country and be willing to be part of those values in action.” He appreciates what he sees as America’s founding principle: “Freedom and equality for all, at least, in the ideal world.” However, he is concerned about the extreme partisanship he notices at the highest levels of government and the division and hatred he sees among all kinds of people. Similarly, my grandmother said, “My father and his three brothers fought in World War II. His generation was willing to give their lives if necessary to preserve freedom. I am not sure we would see as many volunteer to do that now. Americans are not united, but divided into factions with their selfish agendas.” She continued to say that she believes Americans need to interact with and help one another, which is something she remembers happening more when she was a child. Both of my paternal grandparents stated that their observations of America comes largely from reading or watching media about current events or history, and they have also been affected by experiencing the development of America over the last 60 years.
In 2014, my family grew to a much larger size when my mother married my stepfather. I now have three younger siblings instead of just one, and I also have my step-grandparents Freddy and Lourdes. Both of them were born in Ecuador and later immigrated to New York City, spending the last several decades in Brooklyn as Americans. My step-grandmother explained her story by saying, “I came to this country on a vacation...However, during that vacation I met the person that would become my husband and decided to settle here. I became an immigrant to this country.” She added, “Living in Brooklyn, I’ve dealt with people from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds, and I’ve enjoyed being exposed to this cultural diversity. I don’t agree with people who try to limit such diversity, as in the case that people believe only English should be spoken here.” Because she lived in Ecuador until her late teenage years, my step-grandmother speaks Spanish when possible. She values the diversity and freedom of America, but she is also concerned about the intolerance some people have for immigrants and diverse Americans in general. My step-grandfather immigrated to America when he was 10 years old. During the time he has lived here, he says, America has come a long way. “I’ve seen some states implement legislation to protect certain traditionally marginalized segments of society...Obviously, not all states have issued such laws and the fight continues,” he added. Each of my step-grandparents share similar concerns about discrimination and hope for further progress. Having a different background from my other grandparents causes them to have a very different perspective.
While I agree with aspects of the viewpoints of each of my grandparents, my personal American creed is different overall, in spite of the influence my family has had on me, because of the unique experiences I have had. I was born in Brussels, Belgium in 2003, and I moved to Arkadelphia, Arkansas the next year. After living there for ten years, I moved to Fayetteville. Living in two extremely different regions of Arkansas has allowed me to meet a wide variety of people who affect who I am and what I believe; growing up in an era of new technology and a time of political and social change also shapes my views. I believe that change and progress toward a more diverse, accepting, equal, and unified America are good things, and I believe that Americans have to collaborate and be willing to compromise to achieve real change. Like all of my grandparents, I am concerned about the lack of respect between people who disagree. However, although I believe that America has dramatically improved throughout its existence, the nation needs to continue progressing forward to truly ensure liberty and justice for all. In order to do this, we as Americans must advocate for ourselves. We must volunteer to help others, we must vote when we are old enough, we must be willing to have difficult conversations and compromise when necessary, and we must work to learn and become educated about each other and the world.
Barton, Bill. Personal interview. 26 Oct. 2019.
Barton, Liz. Personal interview. 27 Oct. 2019.
Dominguez, Freddy. Personal interview. 27 Oct. 2019.
Dominguez, Lourdes. Personal interview. 27 Oct. 2019.
Long, Donna. Personal interview. 31 Oct. 2019.
Long, Larry. Personal interview 29 Oct. 2019.