Making the Ordinary, Extraordinary
You know, my grand parents moved to The States right before World War II, because they could tell trouble was brewing and they wanted no part of it. That’s not so different from everyone else who lives here. Thousands of years ago, the native tribes traveled from Asian across the land bridge to escape terrible climate change. Hundreds of years ago, vikings fled here to avoid the overpopulation and set in stone class structure. A few hundred years ago pilgrims and poor people fled here to avoid oppression and being locked up in the poor house. Fifty years ago migrant farmers and workers from Mexico and South America came here for jobs and a small measure of safety. Ten years ago my African friend’s parents began migrating here to avoid civil unrest in West Africa. Last year my friend moved here to go to college. We all came here for opportunity, and change, and that certain something that is uniquely American that I seem to know nothing about.
It makes sense I don’t really understand what it means to be American. Most people around here are from a million nationalities, or at least one that isn
t white. Because, you know, DC is just as much of a mixing bowl as New York is, we just dont separate into different neighborhoods. I
ve heard there are different areas for the Italians vs the Irish or Polish? Well, traditionally, I know these separations arent set into stone. But we don`t really have much of that here. My next door neighbor on the left is from Laos, my neighbor on the right is from Uzbekistan, and one of my neighbors across the street is from Eritrea (Warning: mistake Eritrea with Ethiopia at your own peril. You risk grumpy or even murderous friends! You have been warned.).
It is kind of funny, actually: I can tell from a few feet off if a person is Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese, Korean, or Thai. (But it’s hard for me to tell the identities of these people, I can just tell their race! Facial blindness is #nothelpful) And those are just the basic ones, I know quite a few people from other countries, I just can
t always recognize which one right away. And its not just the Asian population, there are over 400 languages represented at my college, and more than 600 nationalities and cultures. There were even more nationalities represented in my local high school! That includes every continent except Antarctica, because as far as permanent populations go Antarctica has no multigenerational culture, unless you count scientists.
But with all of these visitors and foreigners surrounding me, it
s been pretty hard to develop an idea of what unifies The United States (I cant say America, because that technically covers two whole continents of people!). It obviously can`t be race, or heritage, because everyone in the country is a transplant. Even the Native American population is a bunch of transplants, in a way, because there is nothing about this country that is similar to what their ancestors lived in. That, and they were all pushed and pulled far away from the lands they once occupied, into lands some other groups probably held. I guess any place you go to will have at least some transplants, because of modernization and technology, but still. It’s crazy.
And it’s been really hard for me to figure out the common thread. Maybe it’s because I live in a jumbled up place like this one, but I just can’t see how we are different from anyone else. I mean, we’re all human, right?
But there is one thing uniquely American that I can be proud of. There are a lot of foods in the states that may have been partially inspired by the cuisines and similar-ish foods of other countries that end up getting a complete makeover here. Pizza? Italian pizza was just a way to make stale bread a little less icky. But pizza has become an artform in the states. It’s pretty funny, because then American pizzas were brought to Italy and inspired American style pizzas there! And what about casseroles? I actually like tuna casserole and turkey tettrazini, and I think most people love a good oven baked mac and cheese. (The preserved box type is officially disowned!) And apple pie is pretty American, though of course apples are a foreign plant here, brought over from Europe during the continent’s colonization. Brought and planted by Johhny Appleseed, a famous guy in American (not pre American) legends.
But something even better than all of that is the chocolate chip cookie. I don’t know if Tollhouse has been lying to me, but on the back of their chocolate chips they always show the story of the invention of this yummy treat. The story is that this lady ran a tollhouse, which served food among other functions, and she put some chopped chocolate inside of her special sugar cookie recipe. Genius! I love the dumb things. It’s inspired a whole realm of small treat filled cookies. You could even call it a legendary cookie. Frankly, I think that kind of famous-ness is pretty darn swanky.
The taco, burrito, and chimichanga are also American invented foods. Americans invented soda, and perfected apple butter, and created a world of turkey based foods. They made the airplane, and rootbeer floats. An American teen made the television for a Science Fair project, and invented the internet (or at least added practical applications to it,) and American engineers made the solar roadway.
Maybe something that unites us is that we like to tell it to you straight. We don’t bother with subtlety- if you earn our respect, we’ll give it to y0u; and if you act like a jerk, we’ll let you know (some more politely than others!) We are the champions of the underdogs, or at least we try to be. We like to help people, and we try to meet people where they are. We appreciate new cultures and try to include foreign words into our own language with pronunciation as close to the original as we can handle.
Sure, we have some weak spots. Some less-than-admirable blots on our history. Who doesn’t have a weakness? But we are more than our mistakes, past and present. We’ve got people who give what time and money they have freely. You need to support a charity? Just get the word out and people are bound to jump in. We may be contrary as cats, and many of us dislike being legally obligated to give, but when it’s an optional thing we often give beyond our means, because helping people matters more. We’ve got a lot of people who really value their chance to work hard and get an honest living in return. We believe that people can dream big, and if they put in the work they’ll see results. We believe that it doesn’t matter where you came from or what your parents have done, we will respect or dislike you based on your own character and actions. Many people might be disappointed when they realize not everyone can afford white picket fences and sports cars, but most everyone gets the opportunity to work hard and gain a future at some point in their lives. We believe in honesty and loyalty and work ethic. We believe in an awful lot of things, and maybe that’s a more important unifying force than the looooong history that unites some other countries.
So, in the end I say to you all,