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In divisive times, we hold these things to be American

Updated July 2, 2020 - 9:01 am

The founders of our country disagreed on a lot of things. But when it came to the basics, they were on the same page.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The words appear in the Declaration of Independence, the results of which we celebrate on July Fourth. We asked Southern Nevadans (and one visiting couple) a question that seems particularly relevant in these divisive times: What unites us as Americans?

Paige Hines and Dustin Raper, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, dating for a year

Paige: The desire to still have a good life. I think the American dream still is probably one thing that all Americans can still strive for. I think it’s probably different for most people depending on what their background is, but the end goal is to have a life that’s comfortable and suitable for your family.

I think for some people it’s attainable, but for other people it’s been made more difficult or seemingly impossible with some of the obstacles now in the way.

Dustin: I think what still unites us as Americans is the common ground of respect and courage and love.

I think it’s there. It’s just under scrutiny now.

Sondra Cosgrove, College of Southern Nevada history professor, League of Women Voters Nevada president

We agree everything is up for debate. What that means is we (are part of) a democratic tradition in this country where everybody can voice their opinions and be heard, and we should debate with each other. We all agree on that. And I know it drives us all crazy sometimes, but the alternative would be saying nothing because we all lived under oppression and we were all afraid.

Donato Cabrera, music director, Las Vegas Philharmonic

I think it’s our innate desire — our human desire — to connect with one another, that we still, even in our divisiveness, are in need of interaction. So we may see this among ourselves as yelling at each other, but we’re still trying to get someone else’s attention.

(Also) music. There are very few things in life that connect us more than music.

Heidi Harris, Las Vegas talk radio host

I think we should be grateful for freedom of speech — as much as we squabble like a bunch of brats.

We’ve been doing this for 100 years, 200 years. This is not new. But the fact we can do it in public to a large extent, I’m so grateful for that, even though I don’t like squabbling. Everybody should be grateful to have that freedom.

Nate Schmidt, Vegas Golden Knights defenseman

Golden Knights defenseman Nate Schmidt (88) on Friday, March 29, 2019, at T-Mobile Arena, in La ...
Golden Knights defenseman Nate Schmidt (88) on Friday, March 29, 2019, at T-Mobile Arena, in Las Vegas. (Benjamin Hager Review-Journal) @BenjaminHphoto

Fourth of July, at least for me, is being around family, enjoying the freedom previous generations of Americans fought and died for. It all comes down to family. Even if you look at people (arguing) on the internet or talking at each other, any type of family you find, it’ll be the exact same thing. And it’s our differences that make us unique and part of this melting pot we’re all accustomed to.

Pat Spearman, Nevada state senator, Army veteran, minister

What holds us together are the ideals of freedom, equality, justice and equity.

We were born out of a struggle for independence and, in many ways, inequality. I think President Obama said, when he was candidate Obama, we are not a perfect union, but we are striving for a more perfect union. I think the whole Black Lives Matter movement, for me, is in many ways steeped in the struggle for freedom.

Shelley Berkley, CEO and senior provost, Touro University Western Division, and former U.S. congresswoman

(Americans should) recognize that America was a grand experiment 250 years ago. Nobody ever dreamed of self-governance or of three branches of government, of not having a king and dictators. It was something so unique and special that it is worth saving and preserving for generations to come. I think more Americans than not realize that and appreciate it and are committed to ensuring the success of our nation.

Tyvasha “Ty” and Mike Celano, Henderson

Ty: I think a lot of people are united by faith. And I can say that, definitely, what has joined my families are babies. Definitely, children do bring people together.

There is a lot of divisiveness, but there are a lot of people uniting for common purposes. With Black Lives Matter, many people are protesting, and it isn’t just Black Americans.

Mike: I think one of the major things missing is sports. It’s definitely something that unites us.

Sonny Vinuya, president, Las Vegas Asian Chamber of Commerce

Sonny Vinuya, Las Vegas Asian Chamber of Commerce president, at his Las Vegas office on Friday, ...
Sonny Vinuya, Las Vegas Asian Chamber of Commerce president, at his Las Vegas office on Friday, June 26, 2020. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye

Family — I think that’s one common bond that we can all look to. Education is another one.

I would hope we still share love for the country. I’m an immigrant. I love this country, especially what it has given me and my family. I immigrated here in 1986 and moved to Las Vegas in ’04. My father fought in World War II for the U.S. Army. He’d tell me, ‘Someday you’ll thank me,’ and I never stopped thanking him.”

Vince Collins, director of operations, the LGBTQ Center of Southern Nevada

Vince Collins, right, director of Operations at The Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Souther ...
Vince Collins, right, director of Operations at The Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada, Inc., with coworkers Christopher Delaney, left, HIV, outreach coordinator, Ashante Herring, Youth Resource specialist, and Nickollii Warner, second right, Transgender and Gender Diversity Program assistant, on Tuesday, June 23, 2020, in Las Vegas. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye

I think what all Americans want is to have a sense of community, not only to your neighborhood and your city and your state but to your country, and I think that’s what’s going on now. People are feeling separated and divided by — it’s a values war, almost, where people have different ideas about what (those) values should be.

But a sense of belonging is the thing I think we all want. We want to be acknowledged individually and collectively so they don’t feel left out of everything that this country has to offer.

Ericka Aviles, owner, Ericka Aviles Consulting

What unites us as Americans is a need for equality. I think it’s a time when we’re all talking (about equality), even though there’s a difference of opinion about how equality is granted and upheld. Being Latina myself … I have a sense of encouragement that millions of Americans again are united behind equality and life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for everybody.

Yong Dawson, photographer, Henderson

Yong Dawson and her husband Greg walk at Vivadi Park on Saturday, June 27, 2020, in Henderson. ...
Yong Dawson and her husband Greg walk at Vivadi Park on Saturday, June 27, 2020, in Henderson. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye

Just love for your neighbors and your family and friends.

My husband is a sergeant for the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police and that plays a big part in our family dynamic.

He’s the sole breadwinner of the family, so when it comes to police and law enforcement, it’s special to us, and it’s not to everybody right now. And he’s the same guy who would stand in front of a bullet for everybody. But at the same time, Black Lives Matter matters to me, too.

Francisco Menendez, professor and artistic director, UNLV film department

The great thing about the United States is, it’s an aspirational society in which people dare to dream or be better than what they were.

I was born in El Salvador … When my daughter was born, I thought it was only fair to have her father become an American citizen. (He became a U.S. citizen in 2002.) That process was very emotional. Sometimes people want us to be ashamed of, maybe, being an American citizen, but having come from someplace else, I can tell you this is a world of possibility and change.

Sergio Alvarez, dancer, Nevada Ballet Theatre

People are still trying to be together as families, as friends, as colleagues, and trying to make their communities better places.

I’m originally from Colombia. I’ve been here in the United States for 10 years. … I was lucky enough to get a job in 2009, to be accepted as an immigrant worker, to get a work visa, which is hard to get.

But I also went through a little struggle and stress because immigration was a little tighter in these past years. … I got my green card in March (amid) all of the craziness. I’m lucky I have that.

Clint Holmes, entertainer

The first thing that comes to mind, and I think actually unites more than Americans, is the arts and music. … I think that’s always united people.

The other thing is dogs. We got our dog as a rescue a year ago, and I’ve had more conversations with people we didn’t know involving what my dog did today.

Contact John Przybys at jprzybys@reviewjournal.com. Follow @JJPrzybys on Twitter.

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