On July 24, members of the Cranston community gathered in the Cranston Public Library’s James T. Giles Community Room to view the PBS documentary “American Creed” and the topics referenced in the film.
Presented by OneCranston and the library, the film and group discussion covered a range of issues, including immigration, and also raised the central question: “What does it mean to be an American?”
The theme of the documentary was unity among people of different backgrounds. Stories were shared from individuals across the country and shed light on their differences, and their experiences were presented as an example of each person’s “American Creed.”
“In the video, you’ll hear them talk about being more united. That is the name of where we all live and love, the United States of America,” said Ayana Crichton, initiative director for OneCranston. “And how, if we work together – better together, stronger together, united together … we can fix some of the issues that happen in our city or town, whether it’s economic, whether it’s social, whether it’s environmental.”
Larry Warner, a Cranston resident and director of grants and strategic initiatives for United Way of Rhode Island, served as facilitator for the event’s discussion. Prior to the showing of the documentary, he encouraged attendees to reflect on four questions – what it means to be an American, what each attendee considers to be their “American Creed,” what makes up their family’s American story and how Americans from diverse backgrounds understand and shape the “American Creed.”
The film included not only average Americans’ perspectives, but also those of historian David M. Kennedy and former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Kennedy noted in the film that the U.S. is “the land of absolutely unlimited opportunity” and that individuals can “become whoever [they] want to be or [they] can go wherever [they] want to go.”
“That’s what holds us together, this great ‘American Creed,’” Rice said in the documentary. “It doesn’t matter where you came from, it matters where you’re going.”
She added that Americans center themselves around values, stories and experiences to shape what it means to be an American.
Rice’s background was also included within the film. Growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, during the period of segregation, she said that her grandfather was a sharecropper’s son and the only way for him to attain a college education was to become a minister. Her father also was a minister.
Another story shared was that of Chicago Cubs head coach Joe Maddon. In the film, Maddon shared that his family members were coal miners and plumbers, but his father wanted a better life for him.
Being from Hazleton, Pennsylvania, Maddon sees now that immigration is a divisive topic in the area. His family were immigrants, so he works to unite people through the love of baseball – bringing together the Hazleton Little League and creating the Hazleton Integration Project, through which students can become involved in extracurricular activities such as sports and clubs.
Tegan Griffith, a sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps, also had her “American Creed” shared within the documentary. She joined the military after seeing her grandfather, father and brother all be involved in defending the country.
Griffith, from Wittenberg, Wisconsin, joined the military when she was 21 out of a sense of patriotism and to seek economic and educational opportunities. After returning from Iraq, she now works with veterans in Madison, Wisconsin, to help them find support for themselves and the people around them.
After the film viewing, audience members at the event were asked to partner up and share their stories and perspectives on the “American Creed.”
One attendee, Solight Sou, who works with OneCranston, spoke about her experience as a first-generation American and her parents’ American Dream.
Sou, a 10-year Cranston resident who grew up in Massachusetts, said her parents immigrated to the U.S. from Cambodia as refugees. She said that she did not have a “life of luxury,” and that she “grew up in poverty, basically.” However, she said, her parents always encouraged her to be successful.
“My parents always carried with them that education was the key to success,” she said. “They had that vision of the American Dream that we often talk about. What they did not realize was how much of a struggle it would be for me and for my sisters and for my family growing up with our socio-economic issues.”
Sou added that while the American Dream takes a lot of effort to attain, there is an enormous amount of knowledge at one’s fingertips. She also said that she went through the public school system, but when she attended the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, she experienced “culture shock.”
“Rather than focus on the struggles...there are so many opportunities with being American, because we’re surrounded by so much diversity,” she said. “There are so many avenues for lifelong learning about other cultures and other communities.”
A closing discussion, facilitated by Warner, focused on what it means to be an American. He presented a concept raised by a student at the roundtable discussion, as well as by Rice, Kennedy and author Junot Díaz, who was included in the film.
“Loving this country so much that you accept that it’s not in the place it needs to be, and doing whatever you can to see it reaches its fullest potential,” Warner said.