Peony K.

  • 10th Grade
  • Maryland

What does America mean to you?

By Peony K.
Sykesville, Maryland

America. Land of the free, home of the brave. Red, white, and blue; we stand for freedom and democracy. But are we really? Every day, we pledge allegiance to the flag and raise it high to proudly wave in the wind, but what if that same flag is dripping with corruption and injustice? What if our country isnt what we say it is?

Ever since the beginning, from the moment the first ink drops hit the parchment paper of the Declaration of Independence, weve said that we stand for true freedom for all. We claim that all men are created equal with the same unalienable human rights: the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We create a government of the people, by the people, and most importantly, for the people. We commit ourselves to upholding these statements to be true, creating a society to benefit everyone. Our nation is a beacon of light, hope, and opportunity for the entire world. We are the true heroes of democracy.

But times have changed. Our population has become more diverse and varied, and demographic makeup has changed to accommodate and include more people from different backgrounds. Were seen as the stirring pot of cultures, a mix up of all different ethnic backgrounds coming together to create something entirely new. And while our culture and people have changed, how have the founding structures of our nation been modified to accommodate them all?

In this modern era, our nation is full of conflict and contradiction. We are divided politically, sectioned off red or blue, republican or democratic. Our beliefs and values are opposites; the nations values are split. We dont know what we stand for, and some are even excluding others from the opportunity and hospitality of our nation. Our very nation, founded by immigrants who were welcomed by the native people of the land, are now turning back on our promise of kindness and grace and instead becoming the people who draw strict boundary lines. But our nations founding ideals havent changed. We still say that we stand for the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness for all, regardless of any personal backgrounds. But do we?

As a child of two immigrant parents, I’ve been taught that America means opportunity. The opportunity to discover who you are, and find out what you want to do with your life. The opportunity to take those dreams and make them reality. The opportunity to take your reality and strive for something bigger, more authentic to you. Opportunity to be you.

But in reality, the only way to truly have the opportunity to be authentically you is if you fit in a small box, created by those in power hundreds of years ago. Our nation has created boundary lines, excluding entire communities and backgrounds; only a specific few are truly allowed to be themselves without being shamed for their identity. We force our minority groups to jump through countless hurdles, tackle endless challenges, and face endless ridicule and societal pressure just to reach the same stage of opportunity and chance. Our nation, which poses itself as a land of possibility and equality, has created an environment of social oppression and exclusion.

Our government, created around the idea of equal rights to all, has turned away from its founding ideals. The words on parchment of our legal documents claim to provide equal rights for all: a democratic government protecting and fairly representing all of its citizens. And yet, our minority groups are not offered the same treatment as a result of our patriarchal, elitist society. We steal away their human and unalienable rights, claiming that its political, complicated and controversial. We refuse to represent their views, but when they advocate for themselves, we push the blame on them and call them inappropriate. We create a society preventing our minority communities from gaining the same societal opportunities and reputation. And yet, despite all of our internal issues, we continue to deny allegations and claim to be a perfect union.

Even after these minority groups have overcome the social challenges suppressing their dreams and hopes, our capitalist society meant to uplift our aspiring citizens instead crushes their creative spirits and ideas, trading them for profits and corporation benefits. Our citizens are expected to be stuck in a 9-5 job, blindly working until they finally reach the constantly increasing retirement age. Profits over people, passion, and purpose. The capitalist nation once created to offer more opportunity for our people has turned against its own purpose, instead now wiping out the dreams of small businesses and aspiring creators.

Indeed, ignorance is bliss. Its easier to just ignore and hide our nations problems, instead continuing to reinforce the idea of a perfect and opportune country. Its easier to create a nationalist population willing to serve a nation blindly, not constantly questioning its motives. Its easier for those in power to continue their control, keeping the status quo. But just because its easier doesn’t mean that its better.

If our nation continues to hide away our problems and refuse to address them, we forsake our founding ideals. We must work to create a better environment for our citizens and dreamers, uncovering our hidden societal issues and prejudices and aim to undo the damage we have already committed. We must. For our following generations, for those to come behind us with aspirations and plans.

America. Land of the free, home of the brave. But only for some, and all others are rejected. A country of exclusive and conditional opportunity. Land of chance and possibility, home of the hypocrites and betrayers. And yet, we can be something more: land of improvement and hope. We can move forward, working from our past mistakes and harms. We can wring out the corruption and prejudices from our dripping flag, creating a new environment for our dreamers. We can begin to stand for what we say we do: democracy, freedom, and equal rights for all.