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To our readers: This July 4th, Star Tribune Opinion is highlighting letter-to-the-editor submissions answering the question above. Regular letters readers will know that this forum is often a venue for criticizing — rightly so — many aspects of American life. But today, readers share their salutes to the people, the qualities and the ideas of this country. The critiques, at least on this page, will resume tomorrow.

Have a lovely holiday.

Elena Neuzil, Letters Editor

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It’s easy to believe America is well-defined: There’s a flag, 50 states and a handy launch date to celebrate every summer. Its centuries-old government has survived numerous conflicts and presided over a society that has grown and matured thanks in large part to its human capital, immense natural wealth and the willingness to embrace new ideas.

Yet, America is not singular idea with an unbroken, continuous history. For centuries, indigenous peoples have thrived here and fought for sovereignty. Through slavery, disenfranchisement and prejudice, African-Americans have sought equality here. And immigrants from around the world have come here in search of a better life. Even the Constitution — a source of democratic pride here in these United States — is merely a second attempt at forming a central government.

More than a place, a nation or a document, America is the people. As such, it is a concept of shared existence as complex, interwoven and beautiful as any humanity has to offer.

When honoring America on July 4th, celebrate people: those who came before, those who live here now and the many on their way who admire the ideals that generations have furthered for the sake of common progress for all.

ROBERT BEETS, St. Paul

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I was proud to be one of America’s people on Sunday, June 30, in Minneapolis as one of a thousand people who demonstrated against the treatment of people crossing the southern border. Every kind of person was there: Families with children, old, middle-aged and young. White, black and brown. Activist types and those who almost never get fired up. Gay, straight, trans and Jewish, Catholic, other Christian, Wiccan, atheist.

Most signs carried were handmade by the person with their own slogans. It was clear that this human rights issue has galvanized everyone into an alert state of mind to intervene when we see something evil going on that hurts other people.

That is precisely the beauty of America — it is government by the people and the right to protest is protected by the Constitution. And America’s people are using their voices to make us a better country. Happy July 4th, everyone!

maureen merrill, Eagan

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I am proud to be an American when I remember that we created a vaccine for polio, great universities, and much of today’s technology. I am proud of America when I remember that eventually we came together after our Civil War. I am proud to be an American when I remember that we stood up to fascist dictators in World War II; that our Bill of Rights guarantees to us free speech, freedom of religion and a free press; that we embraced labor unions so that workers would have some power; that we cleaned up our air and water during my lifetime; that we are a diverse nation with a melting pot of music, food, art, and culture; and that our Constitution has checks and balances to protect against the misuse of political power.

Steve Wietgrefe, Minneapolis

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I would be proud to tell you why I think the U.S. is the greatest country in the history of the world: We learn from our mistakes, while many other nations have fallen because of theirs.

Nobody is saying this country ever has been, is, or will be perfect, just like no person ever will be, but it doesn’t mean we can’t try.

I think the key is historical perspective.

For example, our “original sin,” slavery, was not by any means supported by all of our founding fathers, yet today they’re all tarnished with the same brush. Put yourself in their position — they were 13 little upstart colonies, and they decided to declare independence from England, which happened to be the most powerful military force of the planet.

They had to look past some differences, egregious as they may have been, to work together. They were the original “We either hang together, or we hang alone” bunch. They put their lives and sacred honor on the line to get this country off the ground, and we owe so much to them, flawed as some were.

They won their freedom, and that was step one. You can’t make step two if you fail at step one, so there was compromise.

Then four score and seven years later, President Abraham Lincoln ended slavery once and for all: 600,000 people died in our Civil War to do it.

We went on to save the world from Germany twice, China once (in Korea) and the Soviet Union once; in 2017 we sent out $50 billion in foreign aid, often to enemies.

I’m an endless student of history, and I will never forget all of the Americans who sacrificed so I can have a cold beer and grill a burger on the 4th. And I will never understand how so many of these young people who are endlessly on their cellphones have no idea what I’m talking about.

We aren’t perfect, we don’t always get everything right, but we sure try harder than any other country I’ve ever seen to do our absolute best.

If I’m wrong, why are people literally dying to get here?

Rob Godfrey, St. Louis Park

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I’m proud of American families who work hard to put food on the table every single day. I’m proud of our communities and neighborhoods for working together to make this a better place for all of us. I’m proud of the work that goes into speaking out when a wrong is perceived without resorting to violence. I am proud to be an American citizen who works hard to make sure my family and all those around me continue to have dialogue about America and where we are headed. I am proud of all the communities nationwide who use Independence Day picnics and celebrations to remember where we came from, each and every one of us, and how very hard we worked to obtain our freedom from tyrants.

I’m proud that we do not need a parade to be Americans. We do not need fireworks or picnics or tanks on the National Mall. We do not need a flyover during Independence Day celebrations. We need to come together, every day, not just on July 4th. And I am proud of all the people who work toward that goal.

Although I consider myself patriotic, I do not need to pledge allegiance at meetings or events. I would rather have a rousing chorus of “This Land is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie. If you know the words, you’ll understand.

Linda Carvel, Plymouth

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When I came to the U.S. in 1983, I spoke one phrase of English: “Thank you.” Fate and a government scholarship deposited me on Hamline University’s campus at the yawning edge of winter. Wearing only a jean jacket, I pondered my future surrounded by student sunbathers in snow.

Today, as a proud citizen, I revisit gratitude often while supporting my persevering family in Venezuela. Once a rich and vibrant Latin American democracy, political and economic crises under the country’s dictatorship deepen my appreciation for freedom.

While unemployment roils Venezuela, I work in a corporate office like those I cleaned to support myself in college. When I use water, electricity and the internet, I think of rolling outages back home. Limitless restaurant and grocery choices here conjure images of food lines, shortages and rationing there. A dollar bill reminds me of plummeting Venezuelan currency and atmospheric inflation; my health care evokes countrymen who are dying without access to medications. I enthusiastically volunteer as a Minnesota election judge knowing elections back home are rigged; and Americans’ ability to speak freely contrasts lives lost in my homeland for speaking out.

As a first-generation immigrant, celebrating July 4th lends special meaning: On our nation’s birthday, I take nothing for granted.

Nena Andueza, Minneapolis