What does it mean to be American? My students and I have been grappling with this question for a year now. Being American today looks different than what it did 100 years ago, or 100 years before that. Definitions are contentious: Who is recognized? Who is respected? Who is valued?
As a public high school teacher, I created and taught a seminar on American diversity. My hope was to chart a course through the winding history of this country’s fight for equity and justice — diving deeply into landmark federal laws and Supreme Court cases; grappling with the evolution of social movements; learning from a wide array of change makers.
But history is also personal. It is the collection of myriad individual stories, dreams, beliefs, and experiences. To appreciate America’s unique diversity, it is important to pause, acknowledge and celebrate these individual strands.
Together, my students and I wrote two books — “We Are America,” and the sequel, “We Are America Too” — in which the students courageously shared their American histories. The stories are raw, vulnerable and honest. They are filled with incredible perseverance, bravery, self-discovery, and a growing appreciation for the community around them.
As they shared their books last spring, and at HubWeek and the Boston Book Festival this fall, we realized they had struck a chord.
So, we have launched a national We Are America Project to help spark a new conversation around what it means to be American. We partnered with three national nonprofits: Facing History and Ourselves, Re-Imagining Migration, and New York’s Tenement Museum.
We are working with 36 teachers in 23 states. By the spring, 1,300 students will have shared their stories of American identity in books and in recordings on our website.
Please read our students’ stories, discover their American histories, and then learn more about our project by visiting us online.