Know Your Neighbor: Share Your American Story Campaign

New citizens swear their oaths during a naturalization ceremony (The White House, Lawrence Jackson)

The Know Your Neighbor: Share Your American Story Campaign ran from July 2nd-6th, 2018

As residents of this great nation, we have a civic obligation to engage with other Americans and to get to know one another in all our diversity. We need to look for commonalities and explore differences. Although America is an incredibly diverse melting pot, or salad bowl, made up of people of all races, religions, and creeds, we often don’t take the time to learn our neighbors’ stories — what makes them who they are, what brought them to this great nation, or what the United States means to them.

That’s why, in this time of divisiveness facing our nation, we challenge you to share your own story and listen to those of your neighbors. For it is only in getting to know one another that we can build empathy and compassion, develop awareness and understanding, offer or receive support, and maybe, just maybe begin solving the conflicts facing our nation and the world by working towards the common good.

During the week celebrating the 4th of July, we invite you to join our Know Your Neighbor: Share Your American Story Campaign by sharing your unique American story — whether of recent arrival or spanning many generations in this country — through social media or in-person events. We invite you to reflect on your family history and traditions, as well as larger questions such as: If your family was banned from immigrating to America, what would have happened to them? What does the 4th of July mean to you? How do we discuss our various immigration stories while remaining aware of the huge difference between being an immigrant and being a descendant of slaves or of indigenous people?

By sharing on social media you can inspire others to explore what being an American means to them. Come with us and #KnowYourNeighbor.

 

Click here for a brief history of immigration to America

Except for enslaved Africans who were brought here by force and Native Americans who have been living in America for thousands of years, everyone in America is either an immigrant or a descendant of immigrants. Spanish explorers were among the first non-indigenous people to come to America, exploring and eventually controlling much of the West Coast that once was part of Mexico.

On the East Coast, English and other Western European colonists made up the bulk of immigrants in the 17th and 18th centuries that led up to the struggle for independence from Great Britain that we all celebrate on July 4th.

The 19th century saw immigration from the same ethnic groups with the addition of large numbers of Scandinavians and Irish. By the late 19th and early 20th centuries, immigrants came mainly from Southern and Eastern Europe, including Poles, Italians, and Jews; all these groups met with various forms of discrimination and bigotry that at times escalated into violence. Chinese also came in great numbers to help build American railroads and industry and often met with fierce and sometimes massively violent hostility, leading to the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882.

Finally, Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1924 which aimed at limiting immigration overall but particularly restricted the entry of immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe (including Italy, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey) and from Asia, while welcoming newcomers from Britain, Ireland, and northern Europe.

Not until 1965 did a new immigration law put an end to these restrictions that were clearly rooted in bigotry and allow free entry from non-European countries, resulting in a new pattern of immigration that now included large numbers of immigrants from Latin America and Asia. Today, as we prepare to celebrate the founding of our country and reflect on what it means to be an American, we want to acknowledge all the diverse stories that make up the rich history of this nation.

Americans’ stories are as diverse as Americans themselves are. For some, America has turned out to be a land of opportunity where they could fulfill their dreams of prosperity and freedom. As we celebrate July 4th, we are called on to remember not only the great advances in democracy and freedom that the American Revolution spawned but also the stories of millions of immigrants who found in the United States a refuge from tyranny and poverty.

Other American stories are much bleaker. The forbears of African-Americans endured centuries of brutal slavery, and the peoples who were native to this country faced outright genocide and, for those who survived, fierce assaults on their cultures and identities even well into the last century. Latinos — whose lineage in this country often goes back farther than that of those who often disdain them — have faced contempt and relegation to menial occupations. Other Americans — Jews, Chinese, Japanese, Catholics, and more — have confronted hostility and rejection as they have struggled to be accepted as Americans.

And these struggles are by no means over. As America’s demographics change, nativist and racist attitudes and ideologies are resurfacing. As of 2016, only 43% of Americans identified as white Christians, down from 81% in 1976.

By 2050, it is estimated, no one ethnicity will be a majority in our country.

Change of this sort arouses fear that is easily exploited by demagogues to set Americans against one another. Today we are seeing a frightening upsurge in anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, anti-Black racism, and other forms of bigotry and hate.

We can counter this divisiveness by asking the simple question: with all our diverse backgrounds and identities, what is it that binds us together? If it is not a common background, it must be something deeper, and that is the first and foremost the reality that we belong to America and America belongs to all of us.

Photo credits:

United States Library of Congress, The San Francisco Call, U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

How To Participate:

Know Your Neighbor Community Event Templates:

We have created several public event templates that you can use to bring people together in your communities. They're meant to provide a framework that you can customize to your needs. Enjoy!

Share Your Story:

You can help encourage others within your networks to share their thoughts and perspectives on our great nation by sharing your own. We hope that you’ll answer one (or more) of the following questions either through tweets, Facebook posts, or videos.

  • If your family was banned from immigrating to America, what would have happened to them?
  • What does the 4th of July mean to you?
  • Share with us your dream for America and how you believe we can get there.
  • Do you feel you belong to America, and do you feel that America belongs to you? Why or Why not? What would make you feel you belong?
  • When you were growing up, what did your family tell you about the meaning of being an American?
  • Can you tell a story of a time you felt proud of America? What about a time you felt ashamed of it?
  • Does being labelled as a hyphenated American (e.g. African-American, Mexican-American, Muslim-American, etc.) make you feel excluded or included in your vision of America?
  • How do we discuss our various immigration stories while remaining aware of the huge difference between being an immigrant and being a descendant of slaves or of indigenous people?

Here are templates and graphics for posting on social media about the Know Your Neighbor Campaign:

Tweets:

Use these tweets by clicking the "Tweet This" button or copying and pasting the text into your favorite Twitter client. Be sure to use the #KnowYourNeighbor hashtag so we can track the reach and impact of the campaign!

If your family was banned from immigrating to America, what would have happened to them? Retweet with your American story and get to #KnowYourNeighbor: www.ing.org/kyn-american-story
What does "home" mean to you? What do you think it means for immigrants to the United States? Retweet with your American story and get to #KnowYourNeighbor: www.ing.org/kyn-american-story
We often hear that we’re a nation of immigrants, but that excludes many people’s stories. What differences do you see between how descendants of slaves, of indigenous people, and of immigrants identify with America? Get to #KnowYourNeighbor: www.ing.org/kyn-american-story
“Congress shall make no law respecting the freedom of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The founders of the United States understood the importance of religious freedom. How has this right shaped your life? #KnowYourNeighbor and remind ourselves why: www.ing.org/kyn-american-story
My ancestors came to the United States from [place] because [reason]. I’m committed to religious liberty and freedom for all. It’s time to #KnowYourNeighbor: www.ing.org/kyn-american-story
Build bridges in your community by getting to #KnowYourNeighbor. Join our campaign to start a conversation about the American dream: www.ing.org/kyn-american-story
For many, the Fourth of July is a time of pride and celebration. For others, this time reminds them that their American dream is still out of reach. How do you feel about the holiday? #KnowYourNeighbor: www.ing.org/kyn-american-story
As we remember the founding of our nation, we can't forget the stories of those who were oppressed and enslaved to build the dreams of others. What can we learn from our tainted history this Fourth of July? #KnowYourNeighbor: www.ing.org/kyn-american-story
The American dream did not work out as promised for many immigrants to our nation. What can you do to help make the American dream accessible for all? Share your perspective and get to #KnowYourNeighbor: www.ing.org/kyn-american-story
Has the American dream lived up to your expectations? Has it failed? Tweet about your experiences, and get to #KnowYourNeighbor: www.ing.org/kyn-american-story

Longer posts for Facebook:

  • If your family was banned from immigrating to America, what would have happened to them? Share your story with the #KnowYourNeighbor campaign: www.ing.org/kyn-american-story
  • Getting to #KnowYourNeighbor is as American as apple pie — pie made with apples from Central Asia, wheat from the Middle East, and cinnamon from Sri Lanka. Learn more about the American dream and what it means to different people with the #KnowYourNeighbor campaign: www.ing.org/kyn-american-story
  • The concept of "home" means many things to Americans. For immigrants to the United States, that idea might look markedly different from someone who was born here. Does America feel like home to you? Comment below, and join the #KnowYourNeighbor campaign: www.ing.org/kyn-american-story
  • What does it mean to be an American? How did your family come to be in the United States? What does the American dream mean for you — or others? Join the #KnowYourNeighbor campaign and comment with your American story: www.ing.org/kyn-american-story
  • The motto of the United States is "e pluribus, unum" or "from many, one." Over the years, Americans have brought an incredible diversity of belief systems, cultures, and customs to form one cohesive nation. Join the #KnowYourNeighbor campaign and tell us what you bring to America: www.ing.org/kyn-american-story
  • The American dream did not work out as promised for many immigrants to our nation, many of whom have confronted hostility and rejection as they struggled to be accepted as Americans. What can you do to help the American dream be accessed by all immigrating to and living in this nation? #KnowYourNeighbor: www.ing.org/kyn-american-story
  • This Fourth of July we ask you to ponder — who is an American? What makes someone American? And who have we left behind while striving for the American dream? #KnowYourNeighbor: www.ing.org/kyn-american-story
  • While the Fourth of July is a time of pride and celebration for many Americans, for others it is a painful reminder of how the American dream has let them down. How has the American dream fallen short for you? Comment with your answer, and join the #KnowYourNeighbor campaign: www.ing.org/kyn-american-story
  • When do you feel most American? Have you ever had trouble balancing more than one identity in your daily life? Join the #KnowYourNeighbor campaign and comment with a story of life as a hyphenated American: www.ing.org/kyn-american-story
  • As Americans, when do we keep ourselves apart because of our differences? Do you feel that you have the opportunity to interact with a diverse community in your daily life? Join the #KnowYourNeighbor campaign and comment with ways to connect to people with different backgrounds: www.ing.org/kyn-american-story

Social media graphics: