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'American Creed'

A still from "American Creed."

These days, just about everybody has strong — even troubled — feelings about our country. Was it the government shutdown that got you down? Or the president’s proposed funding of a border wall? Are you worried about gun rights — or about the next shooting in a public place? Do you feel immigrants are a threat to our economy, or an underappreciated part of the workforce in upstate New York?

Can anyone agree on anything, you might ask? Well, in fact, we probably agree on much more than we realize. And here’s a chance to find out.

This spring, the Aurora Free Library and local partners are offering a program about being American, focusing on the values that unite us. Several showings of the documentary film "American Creed" will explore this question: What unites us, regardless of our politics, heritage or family background?

The film showcases Americans from very different walks of life. First-generation university students in California talk about their families and their roots. An elementary school principal from Oklahoma talks about the poor and sometimes homeless children her school serves.

Major League Baseball manager Joe Maddon is featured talking about his hometown of Hazleton, Pennsylvania, where he started a community center to bring kids from different backgrounds together in a Little League team and after-school programs. A woman Marine describes her pride in serving in Iraq, as well as her satisfaction in watching people protest in her state capital. It is that right to free speech that she fought for, she says.

When there is so much to worry about and so many debates about the solutions, I find it heartening to spend an hour reflecting on what makes me proud to be an American. Watching "American Creed" made me realize that I share that pride with people very different from me. Yet, in many cases, that pride in being American comes from our shared values, despite our differences.

One of the themes of the movie is that personal family history shapes our patriotism. What is your family’s story? The film, showing at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 27, at the Aurora Free Library, will be followed by an audience discussion led by Wells College history professor Michael Groth. I’m looking forward to hearing what my neighbors have to say.

Most of us know how we got to this country — someone in our family traveled on a ship, built a life from scratch, emigrated from somewhere. Important exceptions to the immigrant story are for Native Americans who were already here, and for African-Americans whose ancestors came as enslaved people. "American Creed" tells those stories as well, reflecting in each case on unique challenges and sources of pride derived from these circumstances.

If you can’t make the showing on March 27 at the Aurora Free Library, "American Creed" will be shown at the Howland Stone Store Museum on April 28 and at the Interfaith Center for Action and Healing in Lansing on June 27. More information is available on the Aurora Free Library website, aurorafreelibrary.org. Plan to join the discussion! I’m curious to hear what my neighbors and fellow Cayuga Countians have to say about their "American Creed."

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Rebecca Ruggles is a retired health advocate and nonprofit executive who serves on the Aurora Free Library program planning committee.

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