Project Soapbox at Round Lake High School

This summer, rising sophomore Scholars at Round Lake High School participated in a writing and public speaking workshop. The Scholars wrote speeches on social justice issues in their communities and presented them at the second annual Project Soapbox evening on July 11th, 2013.

Scholar Savannah Braxton wrote the following speech on American identity for the Project Soapbox event.

"Chopsticks, orange chicken, noodles, egg rolls, kung fu, The Great Wall; by now you probably know what I'm talking about: China, right?

What about white wigs, crumpets, tea time, Big Ben and Queen Elizabeth? That’s obviously England.

What about us? Who are we?

Notice I said we—by that I mean we as Americans. Who are the American people? Who have the American people become?

If you ask a foreigner, “What things come to mind when you think about Americans?” They might say, “McDonalds, American football, baseball, apple pies and the excessive rate of obesity.” These are the types of ideas other people and even our own citizens have about us, Americans.

Is this what we really amount to?

It’s unfortunate but true, the new American culture has become very watered down and bland. I don’t know about you, but bland and tasteless are not words I want to describe America. We are supposed to be the unique and diverse country of the world, yet we have become the clones.

When I think of America, I think of all the rich and heroic history our country has under its belt. Everybody knows that America was built on the ideas of freedom; including freedom of speech and religion. Woven into these freedoms is the all important freedom of expression. This means freedom of cultural expression is at the top of that list.

99% of Americans come from family lineages that immigrated here. 100% of Americans have a history that is worth celebrating and sharing. America is made up of so many different cultures and languages; it is extraordinary.

America consists of 311 different spoken languages. In our country, there are 14 million households where English is not the primary language. But are we taking advantage of all this? Are we celebrating and expressing our cultural roots adequately?

I myself am biracial. I am black and white. Unfortunately this is all I can really tell you. Sadly, my family has never been able to trace our family lineage back to our origins. And the reality of it is that I will probably never know.

I am disappointed when I see our youth who have the opportunity and exposure to immerse in their family’s culture but blatantly walk away from it all.

For what? For being that so-called All-American Teen who everyone wants to be?

I find it upsetting that the youth of America will ignore their ethnic cultures to fit into the impossible box that society dictates. Teens believe that if they try to be Justin Beiber or Miley Cyrus they will be more popular and accepted. Young men go to the limits to be that desirable muscular jock while young ladies do everything in their power to be a life-size Barbie doll.

These are the images that we have been indoctrinated to believe are most favorable. Imagine the damage that is done to any teen that doesn’t fit into that mold. It’s heartbreaking.

This is the problem.

Where did all the diversity, self respect and individuality go that makes America so special?

We are not doing enough to bring out and encourage the cultural spice that was once so natural and important to our nation. We need to take action and stop this loss of cultural heritage in America. Teens are losing their virtues, personal identities and all the things that come along with being one with your heritage.

America, we can and should be doing so much more to reignite that flame of passion and love for one’s traditions and customs. There are so many fun and exciting ways to regain this asset of American pride in ethnic roots. Social and public celebrations are a great way to bring awareness to the different holidays and traditions of the many cultures in America. Cinco de Mayo, the Chinese New Year, St. Patrick’s Day are some well known and celebrated holidays of other countries and heritages.

What about the less known holidays such as Diwali (Divali) which is the Festival of Light in India? Or Powwaw, the national gathering of Native American and non-native American people to celebrate the Native American culture? Where are their parades and feasts?

Knowing one’s own heritage is crucial. Learning about other cultures is important as well. Cross-cultural learning will strengthen the value and beauty in everyone’s cultural heritage. 

Parents, you are most important in inspiring your children to get involved with their heritage. Encourage and immerse them in your culture, educate them to the best of your ability. Seeds will be planted and hopefully will thrive. Another great place to learn is at school, so school clubs and after school programs can be developed to educate and inspire their students to be enriched and involved in their heritages.

But let’s think bigger! Government can invest in more culture museums, educating and informing the masses!

Just think, if we build a strong bond between Americans and their cultural essence, then what can media and society do to shake that?

I challenge you to take the initiative to learn about your heritage and dig into the abundance of knowledge that is waiting to be discovered."

RLHS Class of 2016 Schuler Scholars


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