Proud to Be an American
The latest TYLA project teaches students American civics and gratitude for their privileges.
By Eric Quitugua
The Texas Young Lawyers Association is set to launch its new signature project, Proud to Be an American, a duo of videos that educates students K-12 on the rights and responsibilities of being a U.S. citizen. It is the brainchild of TYLA President Sally Pretorius, who came up with the project after touring detention centers along the Mexican border with TYLA Past President Baili Rhodes in November 2017. After hearing harrowing tales from refugee children and their motivations for coming to the U.S., Pretorius and Rhodes were galvanized to remind students what privileges are granted to American citizens and teach them about their civic duties.
“Being an American means having the ability to vote for who I think is the best candidate, being able to express my thoughts and views without fear of government retaliation or suppression, having an open government, and knowing that if I ever wanted, I could run for office,” Pretorius said. “It also comes with duties—to be an educated voter, to vote, to pay taxes, and to serve on a jury.”
Proud to Be an American, made possible by a generous grant from the Texas Bar Foundation, uses the immigrant story to highlight some of those coveted rights and to motivate students to make good use of their privileges by becoming more active in their communities and democracy. TYLA’s Law Focused Education Committee teamed up with Austin-based ad agency Makes Media to develop videos that put faces to those concepts: one geared toward elementary students and one aimed at middle and high school students.
The video for middle and high school students is set in documentary format and includes historical photographs, media footage, and graphics. It features interviews with U.S. citizens and also people currently in the process of becoming naturalized—people from Mexico, Asia, and Russia shared their experiences on camera. Additionally, Proud to Be an American draws commentary from scholars, a voting rights expert, and elected officials. Elementary students will see an animated video that includes a condensed, age-appropriate version of the same material.
The project also takes the form of written materials and includes worksheets, games, and quizzes for educators to use in classrooms. All of the content will meet the state’s Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, or TEKS, requirements. This spring, TYLA members across all 20 districts will present Proud to Be an American to various schools.
Lauren Sepulveda, TYLA District 13 director and co-lead on the project, said that when teaching an important concept like civics, it’s essential to tie what is being taught to real-world people and to show that these concepts have consequences and effects on the lives of those living in the U.S.
“A good understanding of civics and the rights and responsibilities of being a U.S. citizen are more important than ever,” Sepulveda said. “When American citizens (and non-citizens living in America) understand them, they are more able to participate in democracy and in their local communities.”
Sepulveda has spent most of her life living along the Mexican border, where she grew up with a mix of documented and undocumented immigrants and native-born U.S. citizens—always aware of the power and responsibility her own citizenship gave her.
Similarly, TYLA District 2 Director Donald Delgado, a co-chair of the LFE Committee, watched his parents (his mother is from Mexico and his father is from Cuba) become U.S. citizens. He even helped quiz them for the civics test that is part of the naturalization process.
For both, Proud to Be an American hits home.
“Growing up in Cuba, my dad saw firsthand what it is like to not have certain rights and privileges,” Delgado said. “He taught us not to take for granted the wonderful opportunities, rights, and privileges that we are given in this country. That is why I am privileged to help our committee develop and bring this project to life. The hope is that everyone who watches the videos in this project is reminded of why we can all be proud to call ourselves American.”
LFE Committee members said they were careful to keep the tone apolitical. Proud to Be an American, they said, is an objective view of naturalization and sticks to highlighting basic rights of American citizens: freedom of expression, freedom to worship as people wish, voting, and the right to a prompt and fair trial by jury are just some of what students will gain an understanding of from the project.
“E pluribus unum” (“Out of many, one”) is the motto on the Great Seal of the United States,” Pretorius said. “An understanding of the rights and privileges illustrated in the Constitution and Bill of Rights will help students understand that what binds us together as Americans is our belief in these constitutional principles, which transcend ethnic, cultural, and language differences. Without our belief in those core constitutional principles, we are no different than any other country. But, thankfully, we have the privilege of being Americans, and we should all be proud of that. Out of many, one.”TBJ
For more information about TYLA projects, go to tyla.org.