What It Means to Be American
A National Conversation

Engagements

The Greatest Native American Intellectual You’ve Never Heard Of

The Short Life and Long Legacy of the 19th-Century Reformer William Apess

William Apess, Native American, reformer

By Philip F. Gura
April 17, 2015

On April 1, 1839, a New York City medical examiner performed an autopsy on a man at a boardinghouse in a working-class neighborhood of lower Manhattan. He had performed scores of such examinations each month, but this one was especially significant though he did not recognize the person: 41-year-old William Apess had written more than any Native American writer before the 20th century, and had attained fame and notoriety in his short life for championing native peoples’ rights.

Still largely forgotten …

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When Homework Is a Matter of Life and Death

My Parents Fled Iran Because They Were Forbidden From Getting an Education There. I’ve Spent Over One-Third of My Life on a University Campus.

When Education Is a Matter of Life & Death

By Roxana Daneshjou
March 6, 2015

The first hint of sunlight glows off the horizon as I rush toward Stanford Hospital from the parking garage, white coat in hand, stethoscope bouncing against my chest. Every few steps, the diaphragm of my stethoscope ricochets off the silver pendant my mother gave me—a nine-pointed star etched with a symbol of my Bahá’í faith. My mother escaped Iran at 17 as the country was on the cusp of revolution—a revolution that would create a society where, to this day, …

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Selma’s Best Supporting Role

The Film May Have Focused on Martin Luther King, But Diane Nash Was the Reason He Was There in the First Place

Diane Nash

By Christopher Wilson
February 12, 2015

If you watched the film Selma, you met Diane Nash when you saw her driving with Martin Luther King, Jr., into the Alabama town early in 1965. King’s organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, had just begun to stage demonstrations to illustrate the need for federal forces to protect African-Americans exercising their right to vote in Selma, and throughout the former Confederacy.

Nash, somewhat surprisingly, stays in the background throughout much of the film—though an FBI field report excerpt flashed on …

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The Town I Loved, the Protestor I Became

My Wonderful 1950s Childhood Inspired Me to Oppose the Vietnam War

Rialto, California

By Ernie Powell
January 30, 2015

If you want a classic portrait of middle Americana in the middle of the 20th century, you had to look no farther than my hometown of Rialto, in inland Southern California, 50 miles east of Los Angeles.

My youth on King and North Verde streets was about American kid stuff—baseball, bugs, riding my bike, my crush on a grammar school classmate named Katherine, playing John F. Kennedy in the Kennedy-Nixon mock debates at school, trying to make new Levi’s look worn, …

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Undocumented, and Riding Shotgun

I Thought I Was an Average American Teen Until I Tried to Get a Driver’s License

Janine Joseph, Golden Gate Bridge, immigration, undocumented

By Janine Joseph
January 13, 2015

Up until my early 20s, I rode shotgun. With my high school and college sweetheart, I flipped through the soft sleeves of our shared CD binder in search of the right music. I double-checked our drive-through orders for extra ketchup; I pointed out the sights only I caught in time. With my friends, I was the one who tuned the radio through static and made sure everyone in the backseat had enough air.

I was born in the Philippines. My cousins, …

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Being American Means Never Having to Fret Over Your Legal Documents

Paperwork Was a Matter of Life and Death When I Was a Refugee. Now, It’s Just an Annoyance.

Paperwork attache Jagesic

By Sanja Jagesic
December 26, 2014

Last year, when my driver’s license was set to expire, I went online to apply for a renewal but was thwarted by error messages. Exasperated at the time I had to spend entering my information and getting nowhere, I called the help hotline only to be informed, after a 20-minute holding time, that because I had gotten eyeglasses since my last license was issued, I was ineligible for online renewal and would have to go to my nearest Department of …

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I Do the Math That Keeps Elections Honest

It May Not Be Glamorous, But I Travel Around the Country Counting Votes

election, voting booths, vote, Election Day

By Bev Harris
November 4, 2014

I was standing outside a metal warehouse building that was part of the Volusia County, Florida elections department on November 16, 2004, worried that I might leave empty-handed.

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People Died So I Could Vote

It’s Hard Not to Go to the Polls When a Generation of African-Americans Risked—and Sometimes Lost—Their Lives to Get You There

People Died So I Could Vote

By Jocelyn Y. Stewart
September 22, 2014

When we were growing up in South Los Angeles, my siblings and I often heard my dad’s impromptu sermons about matters of importance: the value of education, the perils of purchasing on credit, the virtue of hard work, and the dire necessity of voting.

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