What It Means to Be American
A National Conversation

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Identities

How Americans Learned to Condemn Drunk Driving

In the 1980s, Liberal Activists and Anti-Drug Conservatives Joined Forces to Override a Libertarian Ethos

by Barron H. Lerner
January 17, 2019

At a traffic safety conference in 1980, a Californian named Candy Lightner delivered her first public speech about a 13-year-old freckle-faced girl who had recently been killed by a drunk driver with several previous convictions.

At the conclusion of her talk, she announced, “That girl was my daughter.”

As Lightner later wrote, the press ran out of the auditorium to call their photographers. “Pandemonium ensued,” she recalled.

Recidivist drunk drivers had killed children—and adults—for decades in the United States, often receiving little …

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Places

When Kansas Was America’s Napa Valley

Before Prohibition, German Immigrants Created a "New Rhineland"

By Pete Dulin
February 5, 2018

Located in the northeastern corner of Kansas, Doniphan County’s eastern edge is shaped like a jigsaw puzzle piece, carved away by the flowing waters of the Missouri River. The soil is composed of deep, mineral-rich silty loess and limestone, making it ideal for farming—and, it turns out, for growing grapes and making wine.

California wasn’t always America’s winemaking leader. During the mid-19th century, that distinction went to Kansas and neighboring Missouri, where winemakers and grape-growers led the U.S. wine industry …

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Identities

When Life Hands You Lemons, Make Cinco de Mayo

In One California Town, a Holiday Co-Opted by Beer Companies Has Roots in a Celebrated Citrus Crop

Cinco de Mayo, holiday, parade

By José M. Alamillo
May 5, 2015

What’s with Cinco de Mayo, anyways?

Corporate advertisers treat it as the de facto Mexican Day, if not Latino Day, in this country. In 1998, the United States Post Office issued a Cinco de Mayo stamp featuring two folklórico dancers. In 2005, Congress passed a resolution making Cinco de Mayo an official national holiday to celebrate Mexican-American heritage. And it’s customary for presidents to celebrate Cinco de Mayo on the White House lawn with margaritas flowing, mariachi music playing, and dancers …

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Places

A Family Saloon Serving Stiff Drinks and Second Chances

Generations of Immigrants Sought Refuge in Grand Rapids, Michigan Taverns. So Did We.

A. Wolfe, Mike Konkle, bar

By A. Wolfe
March 24, 2015

I grew up in my family’s dive bar in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a city now affectionately and appropriately called Beer City, U.S.A. I was surrounded by a makeshift family of beer-swilling, goodhearted customers with crooked jaws and scars across their cheeks, people who hopped up on their stools at 6 a.m. and stayed until the afternoon girl counted in her till.

I thought Cheers was a family sitcom. I saw the know-it-all postman, the work-averse accountant, and the salty server in …

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