FOR ME, THOUGH, THE QUESTION remained unanswered. Sure, it was deft and comical for somebody to transcend the ethnic divide and to anoint me as an American for lack of a better name. But it was also a cop-out. My family didn’t know what to make of me, so they dubbed me an American by default. There was nothing wrong with being an American. In fact, it made the six-year-old kid in me feel kind of special. I was different. That was fun. But I had no idea what it meant to be different as an American.
“America is the strongest, richest, and most powerful country in the world,” Dad taught us as we were growing up in the 1950s and 1960s.
“America is a BYOO-tiful country,” Mom echoed the way her own father used to say it.
Dad and Mom knew better than we, their children, ever could. Dad was an immigrant from Poland. Mom was born in America just 11 years after her parents had immigrated from Italy.
“We have so much to be thankful for,” Dad and Mom harmonized.
We believed them. We counted our blessings. We never doubted our good fortune.
But I couldn’t stop wondering: “What does it mean to be an American?”