What It Means to Be American
A National Conversation

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Identities

How Norway Taught Me to Balance My Hyphenated-Americanness

A Minnesotan Grapples With Identity in His Scandinavian "Homeland"

The author borrowed a Norwegian sweater, knickers, and a bunad to stage this photo in front of a quaint hytta to show everyone back in the Midwest that his family was fitting right in in Trondheim. Photo courtesy of Arild Juul.

By Eric Dregni
November 20, 2017

During the year I spent studying at the university in Trondheim, Norway, I sometimes learned more about my own country than Norway. One day, in my immigration studies class, my professor David Mauk, who hailed from Ohio, asked, “What does it mean to be American?”

I braced myself to hear the usual stereotypes from the news from the Norwegian students in my class. Then the professor clarified, “What to you is truly good about America?”

Even though I’m an American, I …

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Identities

When the Idea of Home Was Key to American Identity

From Log Cabins to Gilded Age Mansions, How You Lived Determined Whether You Belonged

Parlor scene of G. Burk, Warwick, New York. 3D stereoscopic photos of house interiors in New York in the 1800's.

By Richard White
September 11, 2017

Like viewers using an old-fashioned stereoscope, historians look at the past from two slightly different angles—then and now. The past is its own country, different from today. But we can only see that past world from our own present. And, as in a stereoscope, the two views merge.

I have been living in America’s second Gilded Age—our current era that began in the 1980s and took off in the 1990s—while writing about the first, which began in the 1870s and continued …

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Journeys

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

kiyo-glenn-on-hawaii

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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Places

Manifest Destiny, That Atrocious Ideal

A Wintertime Visit to a Onetime Nuclear Test Site Reveals the Lengths Americans Go to Own Whatever They Please

Frank on winter LEAD WIMTBA

By Matthew Gavin Frank
March 31, 2016

On the outskirts of Tularosa, New Mexico, I drove among sacred mountains. It was three days before Christmas, 2014, and it was over 70 degrees. With the A/C cranked, I passed the cookfires of shantytowns, children with strings of meat hanging from the ends of sticks, their parents drinking Coca-Cola from cool glass bottles, mezcal from plastic washtubs. Sheep grazed at the road shoulders. Skeletal motorcycles sashayed around buses laboring up the slopes.

My mouth was numbed with spice from pulverized …

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Places

Tater Tot Hotdish, Minnesota Soul Food

My Home State’s Favorite No-Fuss Meal Is a Tribute to Its No-Nonsense Spirit

Ostlund on hotdish LEAD

By Lori Ostlund
February 29, 2016

I am a Minnesota writer. I realized this only after my first book was published in 2009. One reader called it “a crash course in being Minnesotan.” Reviewers noted that my characters were oddly formal, obsessed with grammar, wanting to connect with others but unsure how to do so—all traits that I had grown up surrounded by and passed on to my characters. A friend said that she would never want to break up with one of my characters because …

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Ideas

Welcome to the Utopian States of America

Experimenting With More Perfect Unions Is Part of Our National Character

Jennings LEAD

By Chris Jennings
February 25, 2016

No place on the globe has been more crowded with utopian longing and utopian experimentation than the United States in the middle of the 19th century. Countless people on both sides of the Atlantic believed that a new and wondrous society was about to take form in the American wilderness. It was a time when the imminence of paradise seemed reasonable to reasonable people.

Between the American Revolution and the Civil War, nearly one hundred utopian colonies were founded in …

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Journeys

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

Sakamoto LEAD WIMTBA 2

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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Ideas

Is Tony Soprano Quintessentially American?

Christopher Columbus Is No Longer the Iconic Italian-American. And That Might Be a Good Thing.

Christopher Columbus, parade, Columbus Day Parade, Italian-American

By Nancy Foner
October 10, 2014

It used to be that Christopher Columbus was the major iconic representative of the Italian-American community in popular culture, but he has since given way to the likes of Tony Soprano and all the Hollywood-inspired gangsters that came before him.

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