"Let us tenderly and kindly cherish, therefore, the means of knowledge. Let us dare to read, think, speak, and write." —John Adams
I used to get annoyed at you for clinging to your ethnicity. I would ask, "When will being an American be your culture? Why don't you define yourself as an American rather than your ancestry?" It was a foolish question only a fool would answer. It was self-centered and short-sighted.
Then one week ago, on a plane with my son coming home from San Diego, it struck me. It was an idea I'd heard before but never accepted. American culture cannot be defined on a stone tablet. It breathes and sails, cuts and patches. It isn't owned or dictated. There is no culture without you. You are a person not a dogma. You are woven, not carved.
You are America. You are my country. Whether you were born here or arrived, this is home. Whether you were driven by prosperity or tyranny, you are America. By hope or bludgeon, you are my country.
America is Chinatown and Little Cuba; the South Side and the East End. It's the California Gold Rush, and the Harlem Renaissance. It's sausages of every imagining, burritos, rice, Yankee beans and egg noodles. It's a fish market in Seattle and a diner in Jersey. It's the places and the people who welcome us there. It's you. You are the fire and the light.
You are the entrepreneurs, the inventors, the defiant ones who dare ask "why not?" You are the non-believers of the impossible. You are NASA. You are America's Got Talent and Sundance Films. You are imagination and fortitude; you are Junk Gypsies in Round Top, Texas and Daymond John in New York City.
You are my country, my culture and my hope for the aspirations of my children.
America isn't a place; it's an ideal, a philosophy. It's a religion that worships freedom and the will of the people is our eucharist.
Some may look at you as a broken champion, punch-drunk on old glory and irrelevant. They laugh at your missteps and your weary might. But you just smile. You are not through because you are no champion; you are but a victor time and again in the never-ending adventure that I am so proud to live with. You are my America.
You and I will always be, as Lincoln said, "The last best hope on earth." Those that hate us don't want to destroy us; they want to destroy themselves.
We are still the best hope. There is no last. There is no finishing. We have more work to do, more than we sometimes care to admit. That work will be our new frontiers, the manifest destiny of education, sustainability and democracy. We're behind in STEM careers; our students are lagging in math and science; our children are still gunning each other down in our streets. We go to bed hungry, our soldiers are in peril and our schools in disarray. But we are Americans. We don't shrink. We don't rattle easily. We band together. We will fix this and we will once again lead the world, not with might or dollars, but with the Four Horsemen of Change - Vision, Courage, Commitment and Truth.
We have much work to do you and I, my country and me. But today is the Fourth of July. Today we celebrate our independence and our unity, our resolve and our differences, our baseball, our Broadway and out town squares. Let us enjoy the day of our awakening. Let's fill our bellies and replenish our spirit with the fire of new frontiers. Let's eat hot dogs because we are hot dogs - we are the mavericks, the astronauts and the embodiment of ingenuity. We are America, you and I.