What It Means to Be American
A National Conversation

Journeys

The North Carolina Trucker Who Brought the World to America in a Box

How Malcom McLean's Shipping Containers Conquered the Global Economy by Land and Sea

Shipping container entrepreneur Malcom McLean, standing at the railing at Port Newark, 1957. Photo courtesy of Maersk Line/Wikimedia Commons.

By Marc Levinson
June 15, 2017

On April 26, 1956, a crane lifted 58 aluminum truck bodies onto the deck of an aging tanker ship moored in Newark, New Jersey. Five days later, the Ideal-X sailed into Houston, Texas, where waiting trucks collected the containers for delivery to local factories and warehouses. From that modest beginning, the shipping container would become such a familiar part of the landscape that Americans would not think twice when they passed one on the highway, or saw one at the …

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With Crocheting Needles, My Immigrant Grandmother Wove a New Life in America

A 16th-Century Folk Art Was Her Passport from Sicily to Upstate New York

The author’s grandmothers, circa 1940. Left, Angelina Ferrara Palleschi (maternal grandmother), and Teresa Munafo Salamone (paternal grandmother). Photo courtesy of Kathleen Garrett.

By Kathleen Garrett
June 8, 2017

The winter rains had subsided for the moment, but the coastal night air remained chilly and damp. My rent-controlled apartment, with its lack of insulation, mirrored the outside evening temperature, as I sat at my desk struggling to meet a self-imposed deadline. Shoes aren’t allowed in my home, not even for me, and with porous window seals in this old building and its wooden floors, my cold feet needed something warm to cover them.

I’d been away from Santa Monica …

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How My Parents’ Wartime Gamble on Greyhounds Paid Off

The Sentimental Journey of My WWII Childhood Mixed Dog Racing with an Idyllic Life on the Road

Author Claudette Sutherland, with one of her family's racing greyhounds. As a young child during the Second World War, Sutherland grew up on the road, traveling from track to track. Photo courtesy of Claudette Sutherland.

By Claudette Sutherland
February 27, 2017

The greyhound racing tracks were like big shiny carnivals, but I could only see them from the outside. Kids weren’t allowed in where people were gambling. Sometimes mother took me with her and I got to watch from the lot where the dog men parked their rigs. They all knew my name and gave me bubble gum and candy. On my tip toes I could see over the fence. There were hundreds of people in the grandstand. Bright lights lit …

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For Refugee Children in Baltimore and Their Teacher, Art Is a Safe Zone

Picturing a Home Away From Home That Is Free and Secure

Students in a Baltimore program for refugee youth made models of their personal sanctuaries. Rana, from Iraq, built a house. "A sanctuary represents peace," she wrote.. "The coolest part of my sanctuary is the four seasons." Photo by Ben Hamburger.

By Ben Hamburger
February 1, 2017

I am an artist and educator pursing an MFA in Community Arts at the Maryland Institute College of Art. Last year, as part of my Master’s studies, I began teaching art to young refugees. The students were participants in the Baltimore City Community College Refugee Youth Project (RYP), a grant-funded organization that provides after-school programming for relocated kids. They were just a few of the thousands of refugees who had resettled in Maryland in recent years, and they had endured …

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In Hawaii, an Immigrant Family that Bridged Japanese and American Worlds

How Siblings Torn Between Two Sides of the Pacific Forged Identities in the Aftermath of War

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By Bernice Kiyo Glenn
October 6, 2016

I still remember them at the dining table after dinner each night in our Honolulu home. Three elegant sisters, styled out of Vogue magazine, their jet black hair in neat chignons and pixie haircuts, each savoring a cigarette and lingering over a glass of bourbon. Their laughter rang, but did not always conceal the dark ironies and black humor of memories they laced together of our Japanese-American Hawaii family torn apart by war.

“Do you remember when we left Hawaii after …

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In My Family’s American Dream, Bootstraps Met Blocks of Government Cheese

After an Arduous Journey Emigrating from Vietnam in the ‘70s, the Author Benefitted from Both Personal Resilience and Public Assistance

Vietnamese "boat people" aboard the refugee ship "Tung An" hold out pails and cans to crewmen of a Philippine Navy ship that docked alongside the vessel February 21,1979 with a fresh supply of drinking water. The refugees have been stranded aboard the Tung An in Manila Bay for eight weeks. (AP Photo)

By Kim Luu
August 23, 2016

I spoke my first words on a boat: “milk,” “cockroach,” and “itchy.” An unusual toddler vocabulary perhaps, but not surprising considering that I spent the second year of my life on a freighter with thousands of other people, a floating petri dish of equal parts vomit, diarrhea, desperation, and hope. Every inch of that boat teemed with refugees: the cargo hull, hallways, and deck. Even the captain’s steering room had ceased to be a sanctuary.

I am an immigrant from …

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The Japanese-American Officer Who Helped Take Down and Then Rebuild Japan

Born in Seattle in 1920, Harry Fukuhara Was Fully Bicultural, Bilingual, and Binational

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By Pamela Rotner Sakamoto
January 28, 2016

When I first met Harry Fukuhara, in 1994, he was orchestrating a Tokyo press conference for Japanese Foreign Ministry officials, former Jewish refugees from the Holocaust, and veterans of the Japanese-American 442nd Regimental Combat Team. The groups were there to commemorate the separate threads connecting them to the Holocaust. The Foreign Ministry officials were belatedly acknowledging a renegade consul, Chiune Sugihara, who had issued approximately two thousand transit visas to desperate Jewish refugees in Kaunas, Lithuania, when he was stationed …

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How a Refugee from the Nazis Became the Father of Video Games

Ralph Baer's Life Is a Classic Tale of Scrappiness and Perseverance

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By Arthur Molella
December 11, 2015

It’s perhaps fitting that the man recognized as the father of the video game, that quintessential American invention, was a refugee from Hitler’s Germany, whose personal story converged with America’s at a critical time in the nation’s history.

“I had the misfortune of being born in a horrendous situation,” Ralph Baer told the Computer History Museum, of his birth to Jewish parents in 1922 in southwestern Germany. When the Nazis came to power, Baer was still a young child. They …

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From Okinawa to Hawaii and Back Again

A Painter Follows the Currents of Her Family History

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By Laura Kina
August 31, 2015

I am a hapa, yonsei Uchinanchu (a mixed-race, 4th-generation Okinawan-American) who was born in Riverside, California, in 1973 and raised in the shadow of the Cascade Mountains in Washington state. My mom’s roots stem from Spanish-Basque migrants in California and white southerners in Tennessee. My father is Okinawan from Hawaii. Because I don’t look quite white, people frequently ask, “What are you?” From an early age, even though Hawaii and Japan were enigmas to me, I have had to explain …

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How Americans Fell in Love with the Open Road

As the Automobile Industry Took off, Drivers Discovered the Romance and Freedom of Long-Distance Travel

Blodgett coast to coast copy

By Peter J. Blodgett
August 13, 2015

Tens of millions of Americans have hit the road this summer. The all-American road trip has long been a signature adventure, but once upon a time the notion of your own motorized excursion of any length would have seemed impossible.

In 1900, Americans were hampered by wretched roads and limited by the speed and endurance of the horses that powered buckboards, coaches, and wagons. If they had an urge to travel far distances, they had to rely upon the steam …

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