What It Means to Be American
A National Conversation

Identities

The Passion for Ojibwe Culture I Inherited from My Native-American Mom—and Austrian-Jewish Dad

Championing My Heritage Began with Their Half-True American Dream

All in the family: The Treuer clan, boiling maple syrup. From left: Anton Treuer, Margaret Treuer, Robert Treuer, Caleb Treuer, Evan Treuer, Blair Treuer, Elias Treuer, Luella Treuer, Margret Krueger. Photo courtesy of Anton Treuer.

By Anton Treuer
April 21, 2017

In my professional life, as a professor of the Ojibwe language and culture, I work to teach and revitalize the Ojibwe language, one of more than 500 tribal languages spoken here before Europeans arrived. I also travel frequently to run racial equity and cultural competency trainings.

My work is a passion and a calling. Sometimes it surprises people to hear that it grows out of an inheritance I received from both of my parents: my Native American mother, to be …

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A Devastating Mississippi River Flood That Uprooted America’s Faith in Progress

The 1927 Disaster Exposed a Country Divided by Stereotypes, United by Modernity

Even images depicting floods and other disasters tended to romanticize the South, as in this lithograph by Frances F. Palmer, "High Water in the Mississippi," published in 1868 by Currier & Ives, and reprinted in The New York Times, May 1, 1927, when a major flood devastated the area.

By Susan Scott Parrish
April 14, 2017

On May 1, 1927, The New York Times announced: “Once more war is on between the mighty old dragon that is the Mississippi River and his ancient enemy, man.” Illustrating the story was a reprint of an 1868 Currier & Ives lithograph called “High Water in the Mississippi,” to which had been added the phrase, “In Days Gone By.”

Through the curtain-like trees, the 1927 viewer—perhaps a Manhattanite drinking her Sunday morning coffee—peeped at a gallant steamboat, a columned Great House, …

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How Andrew Carnegie’s Genius and Blue-Collar Grit Made Pittsburgh the Steel City

A Third-Generation Mill Worker Pays Homage to the Controversial Industrialist

Teeming a crucible of steel at the Colonial Steel Company, Pittsburgh in 1912. Photo courtesy of Colonial Steel Collection, University of Pittsburgh, Archives Service Center.

By Ken Kobus
April 7, 2017

I’m a retired steelworker—third generation at the Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp. on the south side of Pittsburgh. Both of my grandfathers were steelworkers, and my father was a first helper, meaning he was in charge of one of the steelmaking furnaces in the plant. When my father was ill and dying and on a lot of pain medication, he would mystify doctors with certain motions he would make with his hands and arms. But I knew right away that …

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The Anti-Capitalist Woman Who Created Monopoly—Before Others Cashed In

The Beloved Board Game’s Long-Hidden Origin Story Debunks the Myth of Male Lone Genius

Detail from the cover of a recent version of Monopoly. Photo by Sara Catania.

By Mary Pilon
March 27, 2017

For decades, the story of Monopoly’s invention was a warm, inspiring, Horatio Alger narrative. A version of it, tucked into countless game boxes, told the tale of an unemployed man, Charles Darrow, who went to his Great Depression-era basement desperate for money to support his family. Tinkering around, he created a board game to remind them of better times, and finding modest success selling it near his home in Philadelphia, Darrow eventually sold it to the American toy and game …

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In Atlanta, Honoring Two Civil War Generals Opens a Discussion on Race and History

Restoring Twin Monuments to the Blue and Gray Unites a Changing Neighborhood

The McPerson Monument in East Atlanta, as rendered on an German-made 1880s postcard. Image courtesy of Henry Bryant and Katina Van Cronkhite.

By Henry Bryant
March 3, 2017

One hundred and fifty years ago, my colorful East Atlanta neighborhood sat two miles outside of the city limits. By July 22, 1864, Union troops had set up their front lines along a trail that later became our main street. When the Confederates decided to bring the fight to their enemy, these quiet woods became the location of the devastating Battle of Atlanta, where some 12,000 men were killed—including, rather unusually, two opposing generals.

Today, a short walk from my house, …

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When I Say “Dallas” … You Think “Cowboys!”

How Football Helped the “City of Hate” Recover From JFK's Assassination

Dallas Cowboys fans toasting “America’s Team” during the first half of a divisional playoff game between the Cowboys and the Green Bay Packers on Jan. 15 in Arlington, Texas. Photo by Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press.

By Christian McPhate
January 24, 2017

Watching my Dallas Cowboys fall to the Green Bay Packers last Sunday on the last play of the game in an instant classic of an NFC Divisional Playoff, I couldn’t help but think back to my grandfather.

The first time I recall watching the ‘boys play, in the 1970s, I was knee high to him, paying more attention to the gun case where he kept his Purple Heart and the loot he’d collected from dead Nazis. As the men in …

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How a Segregated Regiment of Japanese Americans Became One of WWII’s Most Decorated

The About-Face Permitting Japanese Americans to Enlist Provoked Dissent, Anger—And the Remarkable 442nd Regiment

President Harry S. Truman reviews the Japanese-American 442nd Regimental Combat Team in Washington, D.C. on July 15, 1946. Photo by Abby Rowe/National Archives and Records Administration.

By Franklin Odo
January 19, 2017

In January 1943, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his War Department abruptly reversed course by allowing Japanese Americans to enlist in the U.S. Army in the fight against Germany and Japan.

This was not a foregone conclusion: The draconian mass removal and incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans had been justified as a military necessity—and continued to be enforced. Two-thirds of those incarcerated were American-born Nisei, second-generation citizens; one-third were Issei, Japan-born immigrants, prohibited by law from applying for naturalization.

In …

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Why I’m Still Talking About My Incarceration as an American Japanese

The Pain of Remembering Is Deep, But the Danger in Forgetting Is Far Worse

Japanese Americans attending a Sunday school class at the Poston War Relocation Center on the Colorado River in Arizona, about 1944. The author is not among those pictured. Courtesy of the Wada and Homma Family Collection/Densho Digital Repository.

By Chizu Omori
January 18, 2017

I am a member of a once despised minority group, American Japanese, who spent three and a half years incarcerated in an American concentration camp during World War II. Although that ordeal ended 72 years ago, the impact of that experience on my life and its broader implications for American society resonate deeply to this day.

In 1941, at the beginning of the war, roughly 10 percent of the adult “alien” men (Japan-born persons being ineligible for citizenship) were picked up …

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How Alpine Yodeling Mutated Into American Blackface Minstrelry

Vestiges of the Racist Entertainment Persist in Art and Politics

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By Daniel H. Foster and Anne Bramley
December 27, 2016

In 1822 the Austrian emperor Franz I and his ally Tsar Alexander I of Russia held a meeting in a remote valley of the war-torn Tyrolese Alps. They were entertained by the Rainers, a locally renowned family of singing farmers. When the visiting dignitaries heard the improvisational simplicity of the family’s performance of native Alpine songs, they encouraged the four Rainer brothers and their sister to leave the war behind and take their homegrown mountain show on the road.  …

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For Generations of Chicagoans, Marshall Field’s Meant Business—and Christmas

The Midwestern Mainstay Transformed Commerce Into a Communal Holiday Spectacle

** ADVANCE FOR MONDAY, DEC. 12 ** Jim Roetheli, one Marshall Field's Santas, takes an escalator up through one of the stores atriums level Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2005, in downtown Chicago.  For many Field's is synonymous with Christmas in Chicago and this will be the last season to celebrate it under the venerable department store's name. By next season the store will be renamed Macy's, which is decidely New York. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

By Leslie Goddard
December 20, 2016

Christmas has not been celebrated at Chicago’s Marshall Field’s department stores since 2005, but mention the name to just about any Windy City native, and it will plunge them back into the childhood wonder of the flagship downtown shopping emporium during the holiday season. Gazing up at the towering evergreen of the Walnut Room, glittering ornaments weighing on its boughs. Winding through lines for Cozy Cloud Cottage, waiting for a moment with Santa. Marveling at the elaborate holiday windows along …

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