Alexis and Josh Bryer of Manhattan Beach said being American to them means freedom. "Freedom is not something you can be lax about and assume it's always going to be there. You have to work hard to protect it. It's an open exchange of opinions and ideas that our country was founded on," Josh said. "People need to refocus on that," Alexis added. (Photo by Kirsten Farmer)
For naturalized citizen Rita Timonere, who is originally from Italy and now lives in Ohio, being an American is an opportunity she is grateful for. "I'm happy to be here with my family and that should be allowed for other people as well," Timonere added. (Photo by Kirsten Farmer)
Isaiah Sager of New York said being American means being able to feel free. "It's about being able to make your own decisions," he explained. For the 4th, Sager will make the decision to spend the holiday around people he loves and have an amazing time, he added. (Photo by Kirsten Farmer)
Tahirih Toche, a dual citizen of the United States and Cameroon, said being American to her means being strong and resilient. "What strikes me is resiliency...which means never giving up." (Photo by Kirsten Farmer)
Sophi Boylan of Redondo Beach said being American means having the opportunity to live life, enjoy family and friends as well as work hard. "You will get out what you put in," Sophi added. (Photo by Kirsten Farmer)
When asked what being an American means, Roy Thomas of Chicago simply responded with "It's everything. It means everything." For the 4th of July, he plans to take it easy and be cool. (Photo by Kirsten Farmer)
Gabe Sheppard of Arizona said being American means being a part of something greater than himself. "It means I am a part of an accepting community and I am free to be myself," Sheppard explained. (Photo by Kirsten Farmer)
Kyle Thomas of New York said being American means being able to live whatever lifestyle you choose without being persecuted. "It means being able to vote and express my opinion," Thomas added. For the 4th, he plans to enjoy some fireworks. (Photo by Kirsten Farmer)
Harold Hosanna of Miami said being an American means being able to live in a place with freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom to be who you are. "For me, I've had brothers who have died in war and close friends who protect those freedoms," he added. (Photo by Kirsten Farmer)
Celine Teo-Blockey, a Hermosa resident who is originally from Singapore and Australia, said while she feels blessed to live here now, she has conflicted feelings about what it means to be an American. "The American Dream is a beautiful concept. I hope more poeple get access to it - even here. There needs to be a public dialogue about that." (Photo by Kirsten Farmer)
Susan Yim of Los Angeles said as she gets older she appreciates what it means to be an American even more. "I grew up here my whole life but I realize how lucky we are to live in a country where you can just enjoy life and be yourself," Yim explained. (Photo by Kirsten Farmer)
Hermosa Beach Mayor Stacey Armato said being an American to her means being all inclusive and respectful to others. "(It also means) giving back meaningfully, providing opportunities for all to be heard and fully appreciating the freedom we have to worship who we choose, love without restriction and express our individual voices," Armato added. (File photo)
Mayor Nancy Hersman of Manhattan Beach is a naturalized American citizen from Canada. "Having become an American through naturalization, I understand the importance of our freedoms, our generosity to others and our diversity. I'm proud to be an American," Hersman said. (File photo)
Redondo Beach Mayor Bill Brand said the 4th of July means freedom. "Freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of movement, freedom of religion, freedom of self-determination and freedom to dream," Brand added. (File photo)
July 4 brings to mind classic images of roadtrips, barbecues, fireworks and—in the beach cities—The Strand crowded with revelers.
But, it's important not to allow the true meaning behind Independence Day to be eclipsed by the celebration.
It's been 243 years since 56 men came together to sign the Declaration of Independence.
Millions of people have sacrificed everything to protect the country since then and to defend the rights given to us in its formation.
Although it's a completely different world today than the one that birthed America, the Founding Fathers' idea regarding unalienable rights to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness can hold a lesson for modern society if universally applied to all people, regardless of ethnicity, age, gender, orientation, heritage, religion or socioeconomic background.
At a time when divisive rhetoric and even mortal danger over differences is ever present in our country's narrative, it is an opportunity to reflect on a deeper meaning and why we commemorate a nation founded on the basis of freedom.
I hit the streets of the South Bay and reached out to local mayors to find out what being an American means to the community.
The answers were rich in heartfelt sentiment and showed just a small slice of the diversity of thought that makes this country such a unique place. Check out the photos below.
As for me, being an American means having the opportunity to discover truths about life from those around me by keeping my heart and mind open. I am often in awe of the incredible tapestry of people who comprise this country. Through compassion, earnest respect and willingness to listen to the stories of others, I hope to never stop learning.