When Barack Obama broke onto the national landscape at the 2004 Democratic convention, he talked optimistically about one America. It was a rallying cry for pluralism and a belief in the basic decency and good in the American people:
There's not a liberal America and a conservative America -- there's the United States of America. There's not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there's the United States of America.
Mr. Obama's narrative gave us hope and lifted our spirits, but his description of America's plurality was flawed. There is no doubt that the American people are good, generous and welcoming. Though our nation's history is imperfect, the arc of our history is clear. The progress we have made is indisputable; our vision for an inclusive future crosses political parties and remains an aspirational ideal.
Yet, where Mr. Obama was wrong is in the idea that there are not different Americas, where the power of a community or even more simply a single individual demands a proud distinction of beauty, intelligence, humanity and love.
There is indeed a black America and white America, just like this is a Christian America, a Jewish America, a Hindu America and even an Islamic America. The plurality which truly distinguishes the United States of America comes not from ignoring those differences and simply putting them into a melting pot, but rather allowing human individuality and constructive cultural and religious distinctions to flourish.
"America's greatest strengths comes from any individual's ability to be an American while also keeping one's cultural and religious identity."
In doing so, the plurality we build is not a world of gray, but rather a beautiful consortium of colors, some even invisible to the naked eye, which together build a true spectrum of light and hope.
I am a Christian and I am an American. I believe in salvation, forgiveness and brotherhood. I am deeply moved by the gospels of Jesus Christ and his message of love along with his willingness to sacrifice himself for humanity's sins.
Though I understand that humans are imperfect, I believe when touched by the grace of God, humanity can be uplifted to beauty, genius, compassion and the ultimate fulfillment of human life. I say the "Lord's Prayer" because I pray to be forgiven for my sins, but I also pray to forgive those who have sinned against me. "Panem nostrum cotidianum da nobis hodie; et dimitte nobis debita nostra, sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris."
I am a Jew and I am an American. I believe deeply in the value of human life. Though I have directly witnessed the most repugnant evil, I did not allow it to change my character. I stood up for civil rights, when others were afraid; I spoke out against atrocious acts of violence committed against others.
I love the almighty so much that out of my reverence I will not even utter his name. I believe I am called to accomplish "Tikkun olam", the "perfecting" or "setting straight" of a disordered world where evil can at times conquer good. I achieve this by praying with a loving heart, honorable intent, by wishing no evil on another and following God's commandments. I believe in the oneness of God, "Sh'ma Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Ehad", which translates "Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord is one."
I am a Hindu and I am an American. I respect the value of all life on this earth and believe that we are all inter-connected in this universe in a way where my actions in this life are intertwined with time itself.
Truth for me is eternal. When I pray, I do not pray passively, I do so to overcome myself and in doing so strive to make the world a better place. I pray like Mahatma Gandhi who said, "Prayer is not asking. It is a longing of the soul. It is a daily admission of one's weakness. It is better in prayer to have a heart without words, than words without a heart."
When I pray I derive truth from all human sources, such as my Jain brethren who say, "Mitti me savva-bhuesu, veram mejjha na kenavi,"which means "May I have friendship with all beings and enmity with none".
I am a Mormon, a Buddhist, an atheist, an agnostic, I believe in multiple religions and I am an American. I am defined by my character, my individuality, my promise to add value and comfort to my community. I serve in the Armed forces, in law enforcement; I am a teacher, a doctor, a lawyer, a coach, a plumber, a construction worker. I work in the garment district, I am a maid, I pick produce with my bare hands. I am an American.
America's greatest strengths comes from any individual's ability to be an American while also keeping one's cultural and religious identity. We do not need to be amalgamated, accounted for by litmus tests, identity cards or compulsion. We can be anything and be American. In the end, with the exception of Native Americans, we are all hyphenated Americans.
This does not diminish us. Being American means recognizing that our individual value is celebrated as it is added to America's shared values. We are American because we swear allegiance to our nation and our constitution, though some of us might make such a commitment in a non-native language, in non-native attire, in non-native mannerisms.
There is indeed a Black America, a White America, a Latino America and an Asian America. There is not a single America, though together we are certainly greater than the sum of our individual parts. E Pluribus Unum means from many come one; it does not mean from many you become one.
I am a Muslim and I am an American. Following the birth of my children, I gently recited the Azhan, or call to prayer in their right ear to let them feel the grace of God. "God is great. I bear witness that there is no deity but God. I bear witness that Mohammed is the Messenger of God. Come to prayer. Come to success. God is great. There is no deity but God". "Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar, Ash-hadu an-la ilaha illa allah, Ash-hadu anna Muhammadan-Rasulullah, Hayya ala salat, Hayya ala l-falah, Allahu akbar, La ilaha illa-Allah."
I start every new activity citing the compassion and mercy of God and by extension holding up for myself the ideal of being compassionate and merciful to others. I cherish all human life and I believe both in salvation and redemption.
I add luminosity to the American beacon of light. It is a radiant and beautiful light from which shines in places like the Statue of Liberty, ports of entry and houses of worship. It shines from the White House, Congress and our Supreme Court. It shines in 50 magnificent states and U.S. territories where Americans in the end do what is right, what is decent and what is good.
But most of, it shines in a world full of colors, in a single human being who, in the act of being born American or by becoming an American, demonstrates a brilliance which is an inspiration for the world.