• 66°

Despite our heritage, we are all people of the United States

In normal times, the Fourth of July is marked with family gatherings, barbecued feasts and fireworks.

The subdued tone of last year’s pandemic-inspired quiet may extend through this summer for many folks, but the themes of U.S. history, independence, and patriotism will still likely emerge in conversations, decorations and prayers for the nation.

Recent talk has often focused on the ways the people of the United States are divided. This perception has been exacerbated by limited in-person contact and by the algorithms social media outlets use. These automated processes were developed to stimulate and prolong engagement by rousing emotions. They push people to the extreme edges of ideas. By filtering and limiting the scope of presented data, they isolate people from the moderating effect of broader perspectives and exposure to other viewpoints.

Progress toward the ideals upon which America was founded requires that we overcome this type of splintering. The U.S. Constitution opens with words that underscore the need for cooperative participation in order to preserve our cherished way of life. You may have even memorized these words.

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure 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.

These phrases highlight important ethical principles such as unity, justice, tranquility and liberty. They emphasize the need to work together for shared goals, such as our communal defense and general welfare. They remind us that we don’t honor these principles for ourselves alone, but for the generations yet to come. They encompass all of the people of the United States, not just those who fall into a specific demographic.

According to data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau, there are more than 328 million of us. Our median annual household income is $65,712, yet more than 12% live in poverty, including almost 17% of our nation’s children. Almost 13% have a disability of some kind, including impairments of hearing, vision, walking and self-care. More than 9% do not have health insurance. Nearly 7% are veterans of the U.S. armed services. Educational opportunity and attainment span a vast range: 12.8% hold a graduate or professional degree, but nearly as many (11.45%) lack a high school credential or its equivalent. Our racial and ethnic backgrounds cover a broad spectrum of colors, and we live in cities, towns, villages and rural areas.

A fair-sized majority of us are immigrants or descendants of immigrants. Native peoples account for less than 1.5% of our population. In other words, more than 98.5% of us have ancestral roots elsewhere. My heritage places me firmly in this group.

My paternal grandmother’s lineage sprang from Quakers who came to America seeking religious freedom. My paternal grandfather is a mystery man, at least to me. My mother’s family line contains one side that emigrated from Old England to seek opportunities in New England. They arrived a century before Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence. The other side of her family’s American experience began with Finnish refugees who arrived much more recently. They were fleeing Russian and German saber rattling in the era that led to World War I.

A couple tangled generations later, here I am. My children inherited this mix along with my husband’s multinational heritage, and my grandchildren claim various additional components contributed by my daughter-in-law’s family.

Some people come from families with less scrambled roots and others from families with a greater assortment of branches. Despite these varied backgrounds and experiences, we are all people of the United States.

This Independence Day, as we gather to celebrate our nation’s birth, let us applaud its worthy ideals, including our right to vote, our freedoms and promised opportunities. At the same time, let’s commit ourselves to acknowledge our faults, such as the legacy of racism and the opioid epidemic. As true patriots who answer the call to come to the aid of their country, let us join hands to address these failings that we may rise above them.

KAREN BELLENIR has been writing for The Farmville Herald since 2009. Her book, Happy to Be Here: A Transplant Takes Root in Farmville, Virginia features a compilation of her columns. It is available from PierPress.com. You can contact Karen at kbellenir@PierPress.com.