Vasquez: Restoring our faith in the American dream

About the writer: After many years as a teacher and social worker, Erma Vasquez capped her career serving as director of the Oregon Youth Authority. She makes her home in McMinnville with her husband, Lee.

In recent years, I have become increasingly confused about what it means to be an American.

As a child, the sight of our flag and sound of our anthem evoked the comforting assurance of shared devotion to our beautiful nation. That continued up until recent times, but no longer.

Putting aside the recent mutations of the American flag — baffling contortions of our national symbol — I am no longer certain of what those who display our flag intend to communicate.

The question, “What does it mean to be an American?” has assumed new relevance because of the strikingly different responses such a query tends to elicit. Shared values and mutual aspirations can no longer be assumed.

Worse yet, how can one address this issue and avoid the perilous quagmire of right and wrong? While some celebrate America as an exquisite fusion of races, cultures and ideas, others despair that America has become fractured and dissonant, failing them entirely.

Seeking consensus on issues of race, religion and particularly politics is a worthy endeavor, yet I am at a loss to see how this will succeed when Americans are sealing themselves inside echo chambers of their own preferred facts and truths.

The brilliance of the American experiment never required political parties, and it absolutely did not foresee a time when both truth and lie could span the country in seconds.

Our founders had little concept of how profoundly avarice and thirst for power would dominate the body politic. Nor did they envision a time when financial interests could simply purchase political influence.

Worse yet, they could not conceive of a time when political leaders would not be leaders at all, rather slavering devotees of any idea, individual or entity they believed could guarantee they obtain or maintain the power they covet.

So, where to go with such bleak musings?

This nation was born of optimism, selflessness and high ideals. It was nourished by the blood of patriots.

Yet now it surely seems at a crossroads. Will future years see a stronger and more inclusive nation or an America whose center core is at best depleted and at worst exhausted?

If there is hope, I am convinced it begins with very small steps taken by individual citizens in their own communities. Hope lies with one person at a time, one vote at a time.

Citizens must examine the opinions and values of those who seek election to their school boards, who seek to lead their city and county governments, and to serve as their state legislators. Even more significantly, they must pay close attention to the individuals and entities who promote these candidates — examine their interests, intentions and principles.

We must return civics education to our schools so our youth can understand how democratic governance was envisioned by our founders and is thus intended to function.

Only with this knowledge can they appreciate the perils of extreme partisanship. Only with this understanding can they truly grasp the elegance and beauty of divergent interests and viewpoints morphing into better ideas and more perfect solutions, serving us all with vision and equity.

We must imagine the kind of America we wish to leave our children and grandchildren.

Shall we give them an angry, bitter, divided country whose citizens rage at one another rather than listen to one another? Or shall it be a nation that is hopeful, open to new ideas and always striving to be better?

We must remind each other, in word and deed, that America owes us nothing. Rather, we owe America everything.

This, perhaps, is a modest call to action.

Our American freedoms were hard-won but if not nurtured, they are easily lost. Let us strive every day, with every utterance we make and every action we take, to promote a thriving, optimistic, unified future for this wonderful home, our America.

The choice is ours. The time is now.



Thank you Mrs. Erma Vasquez for your wonderful writing. I urge every reader to print and keep a copy of it in a visible place and also talk around about it. There are so many and beautifully expressed ideas that rather highlighting almost the whole content of the article I will limit it to the last sentence: “The choice is ours. The time is now.” You are so right, Mrs. Erma, as the PC’s
comment and more than 170 replies reinforce it in
This is a warning for the US. This is what an authoritarian government looks like. Policy differences aside, choose wisely or the America of the future could look much the same as present day Russia where free speech, peaceful protests, a free press and political choice become nonexistent. Russia was on its way to becoming a full fledged democracy after the fall of the Soviet Union. That is until Putin took over and crushed this budding free nation. Don’t be fooled by a false sense of security that this could not happen here. I’m sure the Germans thought the same thing. It can happen here in fact, it’s already starting to happen. Be smart. Put country over party when you vote. It’s the people who will either save or sacrifice our democratic republic. Vote! “

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