Today America celebrates another Independence Day. July 4 is a time when Americans pause among their hectic lives to reflect. It is a time when we look forward to the future of our great nation, but also a time to look back at what has set the foundation for the future we have here. Often we forget that one of the greatest aspects of America is that, as a whole, we are a nation that is not a whole.
Definition of United States of America: North American republic containing 50 states
Definition of State: A nation or territory considered as an organized political community under one government.
The miracle of the American experiment is this: it is a nation of nations, a country of countries, a collection of collections, so to speak. Our Founding Fathers originally envisioned a confederation for America, a loose collection of societies that would only band together in times of great need. As history tells us though, our uniting government would become in reality a bit more than a loose collection. However, no matter how strong our central government has become, in this world of globalization and unification, there has been one surprising constant: the fact that our states culturally still are individual states.
From north to south, east to west, America is a patchwork quilt of a variety of different nationalities and subcultures. Think of the difference between a Northerner hailing from New York, and a Southerner born and raised in the Carolinas. Consider the uniqueness of a Californian or an Alaskan as opposed to a Midwesterner. The uniqueness of a person from Louisiana or someone from New England. This diversity in unity, e pluribus unum, out of many: one, is the product of the Federalist system our founders envisioned. Numerous local cultures and societies that unite for the benefit of all. It is, in short, the ideal human existence: extraordinarily different societies and cultures that somehow work together with a common thread.
What is that common thread? That unity? The common thread, ironically, is our differences. It is the knowledge that in America you can be your nationality. The American ideal of liberty and justice for all men has been achieved. America is not a melting pot; it is a patchwork quilt. A scattering of diverse and unique peoples. The greatest virtue of America is its ability to welcome people from places all across the world, yet allow them to keep their distinctive traits, quirks and traditions.
Being a native of New York, I can see the influence of both the distinctive state culture, and how it also relates to the greater national culture. Founded by the Dutch, New York eventually became the business capitol of theUnited States. As the most recognizable city and state in America, it became a place where immigrants flocked, particularly from European countries, countries like Italy and Ireland, places with cultures known for being forthright and loud. Two expressive cultures, coupled with the innumerable other nations represented, make for a proud, expressive culture that is somewhat rough around the edges with a “don’t mess with us” attitude. New Yorkers love food, laughing, loud conversation and their personal space. Though I have not lived in New York itself for quite a while, my family keeps me reminded of where I come from, and this is how I view what it is to be a New Yorker. New Yorkers are proud of who they are.
It is in part, I believe, because New Yorkers have such pride in who they are that they rallied so passionately in the wake of September 11th. Those there did not see it merely as an assault on innocents, on the World Trade Center, but rather an attack on their fellow New Yorkers. Us. Bin Laden desired to break the will of America, but instead he strengthened it. Why is that? Certainly the city of New York rallied together like no other, but why did Californians, Floridians, Georgians, Ohioans, or, simply put, Americans also rally behind the city? Because they saw that our differences are what make us the same. The difference between southern barbeque and the northern pizzeria is what unites us. In America both of these are able to exist mutually independent. The difference between the bustling cities of the north, the artistic coasts of the west, the farms of middle America, and the easygoing nature of the south is the common thread we have. Our differences are our bond. United we stand.
America is a great paradox, and the driving force behind this paradox is our unified independence. Our Armed Forces embody this best of all. In the military you have people from all different backgrounds fighting, dying and spilling blood for the freedoms of those different from them. America is a land of uniqueness. It is our regional pride that fuels our national pride. We as Americans must never lose sight of this. When our subcultures blend, when the Chicagoans become the same as Texans who are the same as Virginians who are the same as Missourians, that is when our Republic will be most threatened. Sometimes, differences are not something to be ignored or shunned, but in this case something to be embraced. Never put down a fellow American’s heritage, and be proud of your own. It is the reconciling of the irreconcilable, the common differences. For the key to America’s greatness look no further than our national seal this Independence Day: E pluribus unum. Out of many, one.