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Being an American means ...

By Emily Griffin
Herald Staff Writer

Today will be filled with stars and stripes, fireworks, parades and family get-togethers. But what are Durangoans and visitors actually celebrating this Independence Day?

What does it truly mean to be able to wear and embrace the title of American? The Durango Herald hit the streets this week to find out.

While people may be divided politically on the country’s 237th birthday, most agree they’re happy and proud to be freedom-loving Americans – even if some believe they aren’t 100 percent free.

To Emily Ronco, 23, being an American means she has options.

“The first word that comes to mind when I think about being an American is ‘opportunity,’” Ronco said.

Ronco, who is currently in the Durango area working at Camp Kivu, a Christian outdoor camp for teenagers, sees how many endless opportunities she has as a U.S. citizen; from a multitude of career choices to the variety of places to live, Ronco labels the United States as “the true land of plenty in so many ways.”

To Emily Eshelman, 15, daughter of Durango residents Renae and Terry Eshelman, today is a day to celebrate being true to the personal self and having a freedom of expression that allows everyone to act as they please.

Many who have traveled abroad said the concept of freedom takes on a different meaning after spending time overseas.

Erica Fendley, 29, celebrates being a woman today. After living in Turkey for three years, Fendley realized the level of opportunity she has as a woman here compared to many other countries.

“Some people would argue with this, but we don’t have any idea how lucky we are,” she said.

Being able to ride the bus, walk down the street or have the same job as a man is something many take for granted, she said.

Kelsey Verrill, 21, just returned from Thailand. She was reminded of her happiness when landing back in the States.

Being able to come from a country that has so much and is so blessed allows citizens of the United States to help others around the world who may be less fortunate, Verrill said.

Being able to live out dreams, whatever they may be, is part of being an American, and it is something to be proud of, said Hunter Brothers, 21, from Tulsa, Okla.

“Dreams aren’t as tangible in other places,” Brothers said.

But freedom is something that has been worked for and a price has been paid.

“Freedom is not a commodity, and it is given to you only because someone has paid for it,” said Clark Cunningham, who was stationed in Berlin when the Berlin Wall was erected in 1961.

“‘Independence’ is a great word,” he said, and after serving the country, he can relate to the saying that “freedom isn’t free.”

“Freedoms are paid for by the men and women who served this country,” and Cunningham feels that many don’t recognize this anymore. “We have been in a war for 11 years now,” he said, “and I bet some people don’t even know what year 9/11 happened.”

Cunningham, who was drafted, applauds those who are voluntarily serving the United States today.

“There is a certain amount of responsibility to maintain our independence,” Cunningham said.

And to others, being American just happened by chance.

“I think of myself as a global world citizen that happens to be in Colorado because it is beautiful, but I feel more connected to the countries that my ancestors are from,” said Lianne Nicholreimer, whose ancestors originated in Wales and the Netherlands.

Walter Krawczuk was born in Germany and moved here at age 5.

A career teacher, Krawczuk is thankful to be able to learn and teach, and to celebrate America through the young people who ultimately are the future of the country, he said.

Chad Benally, 36, believes that being Navajo gives him a different connection to the country.

“America is where my roots lie, and I am happy to have the freedom to celebrate with my friends and family because it would be harder to live my life the way I do if I was somewhere other than America,” Benally said.

“I don’t think of America as quite independent yet. It is a young country and has the issues that any young organism would have. America is still trying to get its footing in the world,” he said.

Being entitled to the First Amendment is something many consider to be their biggest freedom.

“Being an American means I have the ability to question the system that is allegedly keeping us free and to be able to express my discontent when I feel my freedom is being threatened,” said Johanna Dadisman, 22. “Unfortunately, I believe that more often than not our freedom is threatened by our government, especially being a modern-day woman.”

To Texans Clay and Cindy Hendrix, being American means having the right to debate certain ideas. No matter what side someone may take on gun violence, gay rights or anything else, the fact that there can still be a debate shows that U.S. citizens are given the right to exercise that freedom.

“In other places, you can’t even have a debate,” Clay Hendrix said.

“It’s my freedom, and I’m proud to be an American no matter where I am,” Cindy Hendrix said.

For some, it’s just another day of the year, and a time to poke fun at the stereotypes citizens often hear, and a time to acknowledge living in a land of contradictions.

“Being American means I can be hated for being fat and being skinny at the same time,” Dadisman, 22, said jokingly.

Taylor Kostrinsky, a barista and graduate student, said that “being American means you can supersize your food.”

egriffin@durangoherald.com. Emily Griffin, a summer intern at The Durango Herald, is a Fort Lewis College student.

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