What It Means to Be American
A National Conversation

Encounters

The United States of Ribs

I Didn’t Just Want to Live in America, I Wanted to Eat It

barbecue, 4th of July, Simon Majumdar

By Simon Majumdar
December 12, 2014

It was all about the food. To be honest, it always has been, and probably always will be.

It was all about the food when I was growing up in a small mining town in the north of England, distracting myself from my grimy surroundings with the smells of Bengali food that wafted from the large kitchen in our family home. And, it was all about the food 40 years later as the death of my beloved mother and the pressures …

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Creating a Mexican-Afro-Cuban-American Beat

The Rhythms I Play and Dance Collided on the American Continent—Then I Made Them My Own

shoes, Martha Gonzalez, Quetzal, fandango, tarima, zapateado, stomp box

By Martha Gonzalez
December 5, 2014

The annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival was in full bloom on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. in late June. Audiences flocked to different stages and exhibits that shared the finest music cultures in the world. As I approached the workers’ trailer, I knew it was the last time I would hold my tarima (stomp box) and old zapateado shoes. I’d participated with my band Quetzal in a moving tribute concert to legendary folk singer Pete Seeger the previous evening, and …

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Home Is Where the Border Is

Living in the Space Between Two Countries Forces You to Rethink Your Definition of Community

palm trees

By Felipe Hinojosa
November 21, 2014

As soon as I spot the rows of palm trees lining Highway 77, I know I’ve arrived home. That’s the point where I roll down my windows to feel the humid and hot winds of the Lower Rio Grande Valley. When I did just that on a recent trip from College Station, where I live now, my 9-year-old son asked loudly from the back seat, “Papi, why does it smell like steak?” My response was swift: “Because Friday night lights, …

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Finding Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Thrift Store

My Chance Encounter with Arizona’s Civil Rights History

Martin Luther King Jr., Arizona State University

By Mary Scanlon
November 14, 2014

I have always been a picker. When I was a kid, this meant searching the desert near my home in Douglas, Arizona, for old bottles and interesting rocks. Later in life, after I moved to Phoenix, my collecting interest turned to record albums. My husband had gotten me interested in jazz, and I began haunting local thrift stores in search of old LPs featuring icons like John Coltrane, Mary Lou Williams, Charles Mingus, Bill Evans, and Dave Brubeck.

I was on …

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I Discovered America Through Japanese Eyes

What Happened When a Kid From Chicago Became an L.A. Correspondent for Japan’s Largest Newspaper

Scarlett Johansson

By Ari Ratner
October 28, 2014

“Scarlett, Scarlett!” I waved pleadingly. Across the red carpet she sauntered, her eyes invitingly meeting mine. There I stood—a 24-year-old Jewish kid from Chicago decked out for the 77th Annual Academy Awards with my overgrown eyebrows and a cheap rented tux—face-to-face with America’s luscious girl-next-door, Scarlett Johansson.

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The Bloodiest Battle, the Warmest Welcome

A Small Town in Luxembourg Remains Grateful to Their American Liberators—My Father Among Them

World War II, Luxembourg, American GIs

By Joel Fox
October 7, 2014

Like many World War II veterans, my father, Harry L. Fox, rarely spoke about his participation in the war. One can only suppose he did not want to awaken the ghosts of death, destruction, and hardships he had witnessed. Whenever I suggested we take a trip to Europe to visit the old battlegrounds, he refused, saying he would never go back there.

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My 1930s Education at the Movies

The Golden Age of Hollywood Taught Me About War, Crime, Natural Disasters—and What Was Funny About America

My 1930s Education at the Movies

By Manuel H. Rodriguez
September 22, 2014

I’d long wanted to see the two movies on the double bill at our neighborhood movie house, the Princess at 61st and Main streets in Los Angeles, that week in 1939. Brother Raul and friend Ernie wanted to see the films too, even though they had been made eight years earlier. Mother was not enthusiastic. “Those are very scary movies,” she warned. We were not dissuaded and found ourselves sitting in the darkened theater on Sunday afternoon as the curtains parted.

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At an Irish-American Funeral Home, I Found My Chinese Roots

Just Blocks Away From the Blarney Stone Pub, Buddhist Nuns Helped My Family Lay My Grandmother to Rest in San Francisco

At an Irish-American Funeral Home I Found My Chinese Roots

By Jia-Rui Cook
September 22, 2014

In a room filled with wreaths bearing Chinese characters on broad ribbons, two Buddhist nuns in embroidered yellow robes started chanting and striking bells. One by one, members of my family, each with a black band tied around an arm, approached my grandmother’s casket. Each of us held a smoldering joss stick between prayer hands and bowed three times in respect.

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