As the election season heats up, the debate over the future of the United States is also heating up. In a time of great political division, we asked elected officials, civic leaders and everyday Queens residents what they think it means to be an American in 2016. Here are some of the responses we received:
State Sen. Tony Avella
What does it mean to be an American today?
Being an American means practicing your freedom while respecting the freedom of those around you. I take pride in Queens being the most diverse county in the world, because it embodies that founding principle of our country and proves that any number of cultures can live in harmony.
How has America changed over the years?
America is an ever-changing and adaptive country. Each year, we become a more inclusive and more robust nation- It’s why we are the longest lasting democracy in history. America thrives in the face of adversity, comes together when others try to pull it apart, and adapts to overcome every obstacle.
What makes America, America?
What makes America “America” is its people. Americans have shown their solidarity, their strength and their compassion year after year. We represent every race, every culture and every religion in the world.
Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder
Like millions of families, my ancestors came to this continent to seek a new life, one free of the prejudices and persecutions of their homeland. The fact that they could come to this country and receive the twin embrace of freedom and opportunity is a testament to America and everything that it represents in the world. As a father of three, I am proud to see my children grow to face opportunities that their ancestors could barely have imagined. Nowhere else could this be possible than in the United States of America, and that is what I look forward to celebrating this Independence Day.
State Sen. Michael Gianaris
On July 4, 1776, Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence. With our independence came freedom and opportunity. Throughout the years, Americans have embodied these values in many ways. We continue to progress as a nation through the advancement of civil rights and economic prosperity. As a society, our individuality empowers our communities and enriches our children. We are a nation where everyone is welcome, no matter his or her race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation. I am proud to call the United States of America my home and to represent western Queens as our country continues the fight for positive change and forward progress.
Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer
What makes our country great is its diversity. We are not homogenous but a vast nation united by our common values, and this—our ability to celebrate, learn from, and unite across difference—is what makes the United States what it is.
I’m proud to be from Queens, the most diverse county in the USA. People come to our home borough from all over the world to seek a better life for their family, and we welcome them warmly, because we know the contributions that immigrants make to our society.
In our country, we do not settle for less than greatness, and we are always searching for a more perfect union. When people are being excluded, we speak up. Not even 15 years ago, marriage equality for all seemed like an impossible dream. Last year, it became a reality.
In the United States, we work hard, take pride in our accomplishments, and celebrate when we win. But we do this with a welcoming heart and with the knowledge that the struggle for a better country is never over. We know that no matter the size of the victory we celebrate today, we will get up tomorrow and fight even harder for the progress we need to move our country forward.
I’m honored to live in the United States of America, where we know our differences make us stronger and where we always work to make our country better. That’s what I’ll be celebrating this Independence Day. I hope you’ll join me”
Assemblyman Aravella Simotas
My parents came to America from Greece, yearning for a better life. They found it here. I went to public schools and got the education and inspiration to devote myself to public service. There’s nowhere else that would all be possible. America’s Constitution and Bill of Rights are the foundation for our freedoms and have stood the test of time, protecting life and liberty. There is no other place on earth that offers America’s opportunity, no place that embraces the diversity of humankind, no place with the awesome majesty of nature, and no place I would rather call home.
Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz
To be a true American today, is to welcome and embrace our beautiful multi-cultured diversity. America was literally built on the backs of immigrant populations striving to make a better life for themselves and their families. As Americans today, we must never forget to honor their contributions. Ultimately however, to be an American today is to also recognize and peacefully respect our vast societal differences. We still live in the greatest country in the world, in the greatest city in the world, and I hope you join me in being proud to be an American. Have a Happy and Healthy 4th of July!
State Senator Jose Peralta
“I am truly fortunate to be an American. Being an American means living under a set of values that champion freedom, courage and determination. As we celebrate the 240th anniversary of the birth of the greatest nation in the world, it is an ideal moment to reflect on what we represent and what standards we live by. The United States is the great Nation it is today thanks to our immigrants. This is, and it has been, a land of immigrants. As a first-generation Dominican-America, I am taken aback by the constant, illogical attacks immigrants suffer. If we are to move forward, and keep America being America, keeping its identity intact, we must ensure we protect and help our immigrants as so many Americans did for decades and decades before us. The common denominator of this land is equal opportunity for all, and we must embrace that principle, like we did in the past.
Assemblyman Ron Kim
Being an American means being the proud citizen of a country founded on democracy, freedom, and tolerance. It means being part of a nation, created and built by immigrants, that embraces diversity and celebrates our differences as well as our similarities, knowing that they will ultimately make us stronger and more united.
Community Board 9
Essential to being American is the idea that our country was founded by political and religious refugees seeking liberty and self-determination but built in no small measure by bodies and souls held in dehumanizing bondage. This conflict between our national shame and our utopian idealism should be the starting point for any American who wishes to enter in solemn contemplation about the meaning of State, its character.
Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association
We Americans enjoy immense freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution. But being American also comes with responsibilities: to learn about our rights – and to fight to safeguard them for others; to get involved in our communities and our political process; and to strive for a more perfect union that provides truly equal opportunity to all our fellow Americans.
Being an American means that I am free to think, speak, react and lead, although in the recent years, you are not allowed to say certain things. Instead you have to be “politically correct.”
I feel very lucky because this is by far the greatest nation yet.
I feel equally proud and ashamed to be an American. As of five years ago, I was closer to 100 percent proud but due to recent political movements and terrible decisions by the institution and government alike, I cannot say I feel 100 percent proud to be an American at the moment.
Owner, Ralph’s Ices, Whitestone
We are extremely proud to be American. We love everyone and everyone is welcomed here. America is just a melting pot and I believe that everyone is equal and everybody should be treated the same way. We are a giving country. We are a welcoming country and I welcome it every day.