What It Means to Be American
A National Conversation

Journeys

From a London Alley to the White House

Louisa Catherine Adams, the Only First Lady Born Outside the U.S., Had to Prove Herself to Her Husband’s Family, Congress—and the Country

Louisa Catherine Adams, First Lady

By Louisa Thomas
October 31, 2014

It was hard for Louisa Catherine Adams, the only first lady born outside the United States, to say where she came from. She began her life in a narrow alley in London, in 1775, but she was taught not to think of herself as British. Her mother, Catherine, was English; her father, Joshua Johnson, was a merchant from Maryland and an American patriot.

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When Immigration Isn’t a One-Way Street

My Great-Grandfather Came to California from China to Work on the Railroads, and Our Family Has Gone Back and Forth Ever Since

Steven Wong, Wongs

By Steven Wong
October 14, 2014

When my great-grandfather made his way from China to the United States in the 1920s, I doubt he ever imagined his grandchildren and great-grandchildren would make their way back. California was a land of opportunity, where he spent the rest of his life.

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The Path to Mars Goes From Lebanon to Pasadena

Growing Up in the Middle East, I Loved John Wayne and Gazing at the Stars. I Came to America Believing Nothing Was Impossible.

Charles Elachi and colleagues at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory

By Charles Elachi
September 22, 2014

“Only the United States could do this.” Those words were uttered by the head of a foreign space agency who was one of my VIP guests at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, on August 5, 2012, the night the long-awaited Mars Curiosity rover landed successfully on the Red Planet. I’ll never forget hearing him say those words…

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