How do teens count in America? Read the winning essays published in the St. Paul Pioneer Press

I'm too many things to sum up in 200 words. -- Sadie Rai Anderson

What does it mean to be an American in 2010? With the U.S. Census now going to homes, ThreeSixty, the Pioneer Press and Star Tribune sent out a call for students to write short essays answering the question, who am I? These essays were among more than 400 submitted.

RAJ BEEKIE

Age: 14

School: Central High School, St. Paul

As a 14 year old, I think of myself as an average guy from a middle-class family that is racially mixed. I like to do what a normal teenager does — hang out with my friends, use social networking sites and sleep.

I like school and one day I want to be a scientist.

This is how I see myself. When I wake up in the morning, I see the person described above. Now, as for how I fit into the picture of America, I think I am part of the picture, but not just me. I believe everyone who believes in American values, such as everyone is born equal and that everyone has universal rights, is also part of this picture. I also believe an American is not just someone who lives in America, but someone who believes in the values on which this nation was founded and wants to advance this nation. Since my father is from a third world country he knows how tough life can be.

This being the case, my family and I feel obligated to help this nation fulfill its creed.

SADIE RAI ANDERSON

Age: 16

School: East Range Academy of Technology and Science, Eveleth

To say I’m a white, 16-year-old Lutheran female of the middle class wouldn’t be very accurate, because I’m so much more than that.

I’m a believer, and a skeptic. I’m a writer, editor and reader. I’m a student to some, a teacher to others. I’m Irish, German, Norwegian, Czech, and Scotch, but I don’t believe it’s where you came from that defines you; it’s where you are headed. I’m too many things to sum up in 200 words. I’m a citizen. I belong to my family, my town, my state, my country, and my world.

I am American, and I will wear it proudly on my sleeve.

I don’t always agree with my nation, but I always respect it. My allegiances don’t define me, but they help make me who I am. I want to travel the world, but I will always come home. I’m a valuable member of the community I serve, or at least I try to be. I’ll do whatever I can to help as many people as possible, even if I fail a few times.

I will strive to be all I can. Because I am an American, and of that I am proud.

PEACHES PEAH

Age: 17

School: Robbinsdale Armstrong High School, Plymouth

I will always be that African girl who came to America as an immigrant. With dark skin, not good looking, non- blond hair, etc. I have friends who make fun of who I am, and where I came from. They don’t know anything about my culture but they still make fun of it.

My family ran away from the war in Liberia and moved to Ghana, where I stayed for three years and waited to come to America.

My mother died while we were in Ghana. She never got to live the American dream, which is having big cars, getting the best job, nice homes, and education. My dad doesn’t believe in the whole American dream. We are always happy with what we have. He is proud of who he is and where he came from. And he reminds me every day to always remember where I came from and who I am. My family is very religious. They don’t want us being too American, and doing exactly what Americans do. I don’t fit into the American culture. I may look like any other black girl but I’m not. I’m an African teen.

INDRASARI MACKENZIE MURSID

Age: 14

School: Inver Grove Heights Middle School

See me walking down the vacant hallway of my school, waiting for my friends to accompany me. I’m in 8th grade. I’m 14 years old. I just turned 14 a few weeks ago (on February 7th to be exact.) I’m a girl who has an optimistic every-day spirit. I’m a Muslim. Mostly everyone in my school is Christian, but it’s good to stand out from the rest of the crowd. I’m from Asia. I was adopted from Cambodia, and I rarely meet people who’re adopted like me.

I’m different, and it’s OK to be different. Everyone has different likes and tastes, also dislikes and displeasures. Maybe that’s how I fit into America. I’m different. I have different experiences that people like to know. They might not understand me right away, but I share some GREAT experiences with my friends and family. It’s not about looks, height, grade, gender or religion. It’s about knowing yourself in a way that people love and you love yourself for being that way.

I’m different and I’m not afraid to express myself in a way people might or might not like, as long as I have friends and family by my side. I’m American.

ALI MICHAEL

Age: 14

School: Twin Cities Academy High School, St. Paul

I’m Ali Michael a 14-year-old Caucasian, middle-class Christian. How do I fit into the picture of America? Is it being able to name the presidents in order? Being able to recite the states in order according to population? Being able to sing the “Star Spangled Banner” on key? What can I do so my “heart beats true to the red white and blue”?

To fit in America I need to be able to state my ideas, contribute them to society. It could be starting a business, writing an op-ed piece, voting, or simply talking to people about my views.

Without the ideas, we wouldn’t be America. We wouldn’t have a true free market system, we wouldn’t have technological advances, we wouldn’t be moving towards providing every American health care, we would be stuck in the same place. In America we like to improve. The only way we can do that is by providing the foundation: ideas. Imagine trying to build houses without foundations; they wouldn’t get off the ground. Without the ideas we can’t improve .

To be an American I have to help provide ideas. Then my “heart can beat true to the red white and blue.”

MAI THAO

Age: 16

School: Johnson High School, St. Paul

I was born in Thailand. Then, I came to America. I felt lucky to be here. While I was at school learning, my teacher asked me, “How do you feel about being in America?” So, I will tell you how I felt about being in America.

I thought America meant everything to me. It meant freedom. In America, I would live without being hungry. I could become an educated person and become rich. I would be treated equally to who I am. I thought of America as a sun shined my way. America’s flag represented who I am, and where I lived. I dreamed of my family having a very nice and big house in America.

The longer I lived in America, I started to think that America was totally on the opposite of what I thought. Everything in America was costly. You had to pay insurance for cars, houses and so many other things. The foods were unhealthy, and were expensive. My family was unable to become an educated family; it was hard. My parents have to go to school, both of them have two jobs. Whenever I want to do any activities at my school, I can’t. Sometime people call me HTT. It stands for Hmong-Thai. When they call me HTT, it always hurts me. It’s because it made me think of the word “stupid.” They say that my English is bad. People who were my best friends, when they knew that I’m HTT, they don’t hang out with me anymore.

All of this made me think of America’s broken promises to our Hmong. America asked us to fight with Laos. If we lost, all of our Hmong would come to America — not all of us came. When I thought of my Hmong living in the jungle, it made me cry. I cried, cried and cried. My Hmong people starving for any meal. Hmong people called the white people as their father. It was because they thought that, once again, the white people would come to help them. It never happened.

America does not always mean freedom to me anymore. America is only good to the smart people. It is only fair to the smart one, but not for the uneducated one. Sometimes my family has struggled about money. In Thailand, we are not rich or poor; but we never have to struggle about money.

ANGELA HERNANDEZ

Age: 15

School: Johnson High School, St. Paul

To me, being an American doesn’t mean being born in the United States and having a Social Security number. Being an American means being willing to fight to make this a better country, willing to work to clean up the financial mess we’re in, and trying to build the best country for future Americans.

To me, being an American doesn’t mean speaking perfect English or graduating from Harvard. To me, being an American is trying to do the best we can in our communities no matter how small the task.

To me, being an American is letting yourself be counted in the 2010 Census. It’s letting people know you’re here and the people in your community matter, because sometimes just one person can make all the difference.

SABRINA KENNELLY

Age: 16

School: Central High School, St. Paul

Like a lot of 16-year-old girls in America, I love to go shopping (most of all when I’m spending my parent’s money!), hang out with my friends, read the latest celebrity gossip magazine, and obsess over the Jonas Brothers.

Being a Minnesotan, I elongate my o’s, creating the well-known and loved Minnesota accent, love tapioca pudding, and if you haven’t noticed by the cross jewelry I wear almost every day- I am a Lutheran. But I believe I am more than a crazy Minnesotan teenage girl.

I am (as my mother would say) “unique and special in my own way.” Because I live in America I am able to express this uniqueness and be able to find many opportunities, unlike teenagers living in other countries. Going to school is a great example of this, even though I may whine about it; lots of kids aren’t as fortunate as me to be able to receive a free education. I am fortunate enough to have gone to a French immersion school, learn how to play the piano, and even ride the unicycle.

Because I live in America I am able to do these things and accomplish whatever dreams I have.

ALINA VECHAR

Age: 15

School: Coon Rapids High School

I am a 15-year-old girl. My name is Alina. I have lived in the U.S. for just one year. Originally, I’m from Belarus, and I speak Russian. I am a Christian.

How do I fit into the picture of being American? I don’t always feel like I do. I had never spoken English before I came here, but the more I learn, the more I feel comfortable to be in this country. For me to fit in America means to feel comfortable to be here and feel this way about the things I do. I am a part of some communities where I don’t need to be an American – my family, my church that I go to. There, I’m surrounded by the people who speak my language, people from my culture. But in some places, like in school, it’s all different. I’m surrounded by different people. In communities like this sometimes I feel like I “fit” there, but sometimes not.

I just have to get used to being American. And the more I live here, the more I like it.

BRETT SOBIECK

Age: 18

School: Cathedral High School, St. Cloud

Hello. My name is Brett Sobieck. I am 18 years old and a senior at Cathedral High School in St. Cloud. I am a white male and my ancestors came from Ireland and Poland in the early 1800s.

I fit into the picture of what it means to be an American by the lifestyle that I live every day. Each day I wake up feeling safe because of the freedom I have as an American citizen. I do not have to have the fear of being controlled by the government as do those who live in a communist ruled country.

This great freedom gives me the privilege to practice my religion openly so I am allowed to attend a Catholic school. Our American freedoms are also very important in my community. The first amendment gives us the opportunity of free speech so we can spread news throughout our community in peace without being controlled by the government.

Overall I am very proud, happy and privileged to be a citizen of the United States of America.

COLE MOLITOR

Age: 18

School: Cathedral High School, St. Cloud

I am an ancestor of great people who have traveled across the ocean for one reason, the American Dream — the ideals of freedom, equality and opportunity traditionally held to be available to every American. With hard work and desire, they made a life for themselves in the prosperous state of Minnesota.

That same desire and hard work flows through me today. The drives to be the best I can be is alive and well in me because in America anything is possible. My opportunity to be successful in my own life is obtainable because of my family. My parents have always given me every chance to succeed. They realize that I can make a difference in my community and provide a pathway that will lead me to reach my full potential.

I plan to attend college next year, something that neither of my parents has done before me and certainly not something that my ancestors would have dreamed of. This opening is the result of hard work by my family and my school to prepare me to do well in everything that I choose to do.

I am an 18 year old from German descent living the American Dream.

LAURA SCHROEDER

Age: 18

School: Cathedral High School, St. Cloud

I am an American, but I also am 18, Catholic, and a woman. The thing about America is that it is not our differences that define us, but it is our shared spirit. Our differences are what make us the great nation that we are, and without these differences our nation would fail to be a guiding light for the rest of the world.

I am an American because I believe in freedom. I believe that we all should be granted the opportunity to make something of ourselves, and in America that ideal is truly possible.

I do not think that America is about fitting in. America is all about standing out, and standing up. As an American I believe that I have a responsibility to stand up for the things that I believe in. Because of this stand-up attitude that many Americans take, great things have been done for our nation and many other nations as well.

For many, America represents a land of promise, prosperity and, most importantly, hope. It is because of this that I am proud to call myself an American.

JAYCEE MANCHI

Age: 13

School: Central Middle School, White Bear Lake

I am me. You will not think the thinks I do or see the things I see. I am a 13-year-old girl and always have lived in White Bear Lake. I have been told I have no religion, but I think I’m half.

Of Jewish,

Of Christian.

I celebrate Hanukkah, and Christmas.

I have turkey on Thanksgiving, and birthday cards and parties.

I am Italian, German, French, Hungarian and Bohemian.

I believe I belong in America because that’s where I was born, with liberty and rights. I stand for individual, but what if there was no I? We would be one and the world would be all the same. We would never learn from each other’s mistakes, or be the people we wanted to be. Everything would have no color, or we would not find joy in colors. Would we forget about them? This is why our nation’s flag is red, white and blue. Red, for the great men who lost their lives, white, for peace, and blue, for justice. The Declaration made us be free and unique. Let’s not ever forget about it.

D’LANEY MCPADDEN

Age: 17

School: Watertown-Mayer High School, Watertown

In my eyes, I believe that I fit into America. Being a 17-year-old, white female I am just trying to make my way through high school. I know that I have a very challenging road ahead of me. The reason why I said, “challenging,” is because I am going make mistakes in my future, and it’s going to be hard to resolve them. I believe that fitting into America is easier than what you think.

I believe the one thing that is corrupt in America is that we are very judgmental. We make assumptions about people just by what their skin color is, or how they dress. As an Irish/German I have not been judged by my skin color, though I have to admit that I make the mistake of judging a person before meeting them. As a strong, middle-class Lutheran, my religion teaches me not to judge a person by its cover, but I am not perfect — just like any American. So, in conclusion, we all make mistakes if you prefer to admit it or not. I believe that by making a mistake and not being perfect is how I fit into America today.

BERNARD SINDJOUN

Age: 17

School: Lincoln International High School, Minneapolis

I am an 18-year-old gentleman from Cameroon, who moved to the United States three months ago to study. I am a student at Lincoln International High School, where I’ve met all kinds of different people with their own cultures and beliefs.

The thing I’ve noticed is that all the people at my school are really attached to their home countries. Sometimes I feel like I fit in America: When I eat that sweet chicken at Old Country Buffet and when I catch the bus with all those different people. Sometimes I don’t fit in America: When I try to speak and people look at me like I was from another planet.

I find that America is an amazing country because everything is done to make life easier, except paying bills. Education is free, there are a lot of opportunities and careers, the food is cheap, the government tries to help people in need. Even so, the language used here is a kind of hard to understand compared to my native language, French.

I am proud to be in the United States and hope I will be able to reward this country for the good it has provided.

STEVE MCMORRIS-RICE

Age: 18

School: Stadium View School, Juvenile Detention Center (In mid-March, McMorris-Rice was transferred to the Minnesota Correctional Facility-St. Cloud to serve a prison term for felony vehicle theft. McMorris-Rice knew that this information would be included with this essay.)

In America, people help each other. We support each other when support is needed. I know this for a fact. From getting free gas from a stranger to the financial assistance when my mother was dying, American citizens have looked out for my family and me.

Besides receiving, responsibilities come with being an American. Being there for one another is major to me. For me, it is sort of like the Three Musketeers, all for one and one for all. Freedom, justice, equality equals America. One is held accountable for his or her actions, yet everyone, including myself, is treated with fairness.

I am Puerto Rican, Native American and African-American. I am of the urban culture, 18 years of age, and of the male gender. I have no religion to claim, but do believe in God. That is another quality about living in America. I am not criticized for my choice of religion.

In conclusion, American has treated me, as well as my family, with tremendous care.

GABRIEL RAMIREZ YOUNG

Age: 11

School: Holy Spirit Catholic School, St. Paul

My name is Gabriel Ramirez Young; I am 11years old and a sixth grader at Holy Spirit Catholic School in Saint Paul. I’m an altar boy at Holy Spirit Catholic Church as well as a Boy Scout.

How I see myself fitting into the American culture is simple… I am Mexican-American, English-American and French-American. I guess one could say that I am the melting pot of America.

I feel blessed to have all these cultures within me and traditions passed down to me. I feel to be American is to believe in equality, justice, freedom and to be happy.

FADILA HASSAN

Age: 16

School: Lincoln International High School, Minneapolis

I am a 16-year-old female named Fadila Duri Hassan. I am Oromo but was born in Saint Paul.

Growing up in America is, I believe, a privilege, because I know many of my people who are back home that don’t have the opportunity to be where I’m at or do what I am able to do today.

I am able to wake up in the morning knowing I can take a hot shower without having to walk to the nearest water pump. I am able to get on a school bus instead of walking a mile or more to get my education. In America knowing that I am an ethnic minority, I take that as an advantage. I strive to do the very best that I can be. Even though my people would say I am lucky to be here in America it’s not all that sweet. I don’t get treated the same as the whites, blacks, Asians, Mexicans etc. I get stares and rude comments such as “rag head” or “towel head.” It feels like because I am a Muslim and not a Christian, I am not the same.

VANG YANG

Age: 13

School: Concordia Creative Learning Academy, St. Paul

My name is Vang and I come from Minnesota, United States Of America, and I am 13 years old.

I think I fit in America because they accepted my dad and his parents to come to America. My grandpa and grandma came to the United States because there was the war in our country. My grandpa was serving in our country and he came to the U.S.A because he had my dad and didn’t want to be killed by the communists. My grandpa was in the Vietnam War and his dad was killed in his backyard while trying to find his bull to put it back in the shed. But he couldn’t find it and he went out into the forest and saw communists eating his bull and got killed. So that’s why my parent’s parents came to the U.S.A. So if they never moved I would have never been alive.

I like the U.S.A. because I like fishing a lot and other people like fishing, too. The U.S.A. has a lot of lakes and rivers to fish. Minnesota’s nickname is the land of 10,000 lakes.

I feel at home enough to fish at any one of those 10,000 lakes.
To me, being an American doesn’t mean being born in the United States and having a Social Security number. Being an American means being willing to fight to make this a better country, willing to work to clean up the financial mess we’re in, and trying to build the best country for future Americans.

To me, being an American doesn’t mean speaking perfect English or graduating from Harvard. To me, being an American is trying to do the best we can in our communities no matter how small the task.

To me, being an American is letting yourself be counted in the 2010 Census. It’s letting people know you’re here and the people in your community matter, because sometimes just one person can make all the difference.

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