America is going through one of the most divisive times in recent history, and the anger, sense of chaos and feeling of frustration is high with no clear end in sight. As we get closer to the Fourth of July, the current state of the country seems further away from the unofficial national motto “E Pluribus Unum,” which means “out of many, one.” Americans still want this country to be one, even if the path toward that goal is not always obvious.
My organization, More in Common, fielded a national survey from May 17 to June 3, interviewing 2,500 adults, which found that 7 in 10 Americans agree we do have more in common than what divides us.
Despite the worsening polarization in our country, I believe we can still find comfort in our commonality and a shared interest in charting a path forward that keeps us united. As we turn to our family and friends this Independence Day, this holiday offers a rare opportunity to reflect on how we can reduce this existential sense of us vs. them. One way would be to look toward our family stories; this is where we might find that “E Pluribus Unum” still rings true.
While debates about history are often waged using abstract language to describe the trajectory of national events, people experience history most intimately through their families. Our same survey found varied family narratives, some of which were experienced more acutely by particular segments of our society. For example, 76% of Black Americans and 64% of Asian Americans said that a story of “exclusion, discrimination and abuse” resonates with their family’s experience in America. This compares to just 43% of Americans on average. These statistics reflect stories that are part of the “Pluribus,” the many narratives of family histories felt more strongly by some and not at all by others.
The survey also found that 9 in 10 Americans said that a story of “working hard, doing your part and passing on to the next generation a better life” describes their family’s experience in America. While the contours of our family stories are different and shaped by myriad historical factors, what we all have in common is our families’ resilience and the pursuit of opportunity and freedom in the U.S. This is the story of “Unum,” the story shared by all of us.
Additionally, the survey asked Americans to describe the country today, and the word most frequently chosen by Americans was “divided” followed by “chaotic.” And it’s easy to see why, from news headlines on record-breaking inflation rates, startling testimonies from the Jan. 6 hearings and the Supreme Court’s monumental decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. Americans see worsening polarization and rising threats of political violence, with 8 in 10 Americans saying that the greatest threats to the nation come from within.
My own experience in America reflects the coexistence of that common story shared by many Americans with the unique experiences that shaped who I am. I moved to the U.S. by myself at age 18. As the first and only immigrant from my family in the U.S., I often felt isolated and invisible. These feelings have increased with the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes. Yet at the same time, I recall the reasons why I moved here years ago: to learn and forge my own path. Like the family histories of so many Americans, my story in America is also defined by my desire to live the way I choose to and pass on a better life for those who come after.
Acknowledging the stories of the “Pluribus” does not detract from our capacity to celebrate the story we all share. What makes America stand out from other countries is the freedom to live out the country’s ideals in the ways we choose, but also our consistent, albeit imperfect, efforts to engage with the different stories that define our families and who we are as a people. The progress we have made over time is our source of pride, as is our willingness and commitment to look at areas where we have fallen short, too.
I strongly believe that telling the stories of “the many” is a crucial step toward living up to the Founding Fathers’ motto of “E Pluribus Unum.” It’s also the way in which we can recognize the humanity in each other. While it does not eliminate the elements that are polarizing our politics, it helps give us a new vocabulary to disrupt the pervasive sense of us vs. them. At a time when we feel so divided, looking at our nation through the lens of family might help us see that there is still so much we all have in common — including that sacred belief that from many comes one.