What It Means to Be American »

A Jewish Photographer’s Nearly Forgotten “Collaboration” With Cheyenne Indians Provides a Crucial Bridge to History

By | January 27, 2017

On a cold day in late November 1853, in a place called Big Timbers, in what is today southeastern Colorado, a Jewish photographer named Solomon Nunes Carvalho hoisted his ten-pound daguerreotype camera onto a tripod and aimed his lens at a pair of Cheyenne Indians. At first glance, the resulting image, scratched and faded from years of neglect, seems unremarkable. But in fact it is …

What It Means to Be American »

How the Dallas Cowboys–“America’s Team”–Helped the City Recover From JFK’s Assassination

By | January 24, 2017

Watching my Dallas Cowboys fall to the Green Bay Packers last Sunday on the last play of the game in an instant classic of an NFC Divisional Playoff, I couldn’t help but think back to my grandfather.
The first time I recall watching the ‘boys play, in the 1970s, I was knee high to him, paying more attention to the gun case where he kept …

What It Means to Be American »

How a Segregated Regiment of Japanese Americans Became One of WWII’s Most Decorated

By | January 19, 2017

In January 1943, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his War Department abruptly reversed course by allowing Japanese Americans to enlist in the U.S. Army in the fight against Germany and Japan.
This was not a foregone conclusion: The draconian mass removal and incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans had been justified as a military necessity—and continued to be enforced. Two-thirds of those incarcerated were American-born Nisei, …

What It Means to Be American »

The Intel Report That Could’ve Stopped Japanese American Internment

By | January 18, 2017

In spring 1941, months before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, a team led by U.S. Naval Intelligence officer Kenneth Ringle broke into the Japanese consulate in Los Angeles.
One man stayed downstairs to guard the elevator while the rest snuck upstairs using skeleton keys to make their way to the back rooms. They brought along a safecracker—a convicted felon sprung for one night to help …

What It Means to Be American »

The Pain of Remembering My Incarceration as an American Japanese Is Deep, But the Danger in Forgetting Is Far Worse

By | January 18, 2017

I am a member of a once despised minority group, American Japanese, who spent three and a half years incarcerated in an American concentration camp during World War II. Although that ordeal ended 72 years ago, the impact of that experience on my life and its broader implications for American society resonate deeply to this day.
In 1941, at the beginning of the war, roughly 10 …

What It Means to Be American »

Inaugurations Highlight the Strengths—and Tensions—that Define the American Presidency

By | January 10, 2017

On Jan. 20, tens of millions of people will watch the pomp and spectacle of a uniquely American tradition. The hushed politicos in the pews of prayer service, the gleaming marching band brass on parade, the holy men and women delivering solemn invocations, the tuxes and gowns dancing their way through evening balls. And, of course, the next president of the United States of America, …

What It Means to Be American »

Melania Trump Won’t Be the First First Lady Who Wasn’t Born in the U.S.

By | January 6, 2017

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. When she …

What It Means to Be American »

What Does L.A. Look Like to an American Reporting for Japan’s Largest Newspaper?

By | January 4, 2017

“Scarlett, Scarlett!” I waved pleadingly. Across the red carpet she sauntered, her eyes invitingly meeting mine. There I stood—a 24-year-old Jewish kid from Chicago decked out for the 77th Annual Academy Awards with my overgrown eyebrows and a cheap rented tux—face-to-face with America’s luscious girl-next-door, Scarlett Johansson.
I had been waiting all year to ask her this question: “What do you have to say to your …

What It Means to Be American »

The Disneyfication of American History Began Long Before the Theme Parks

By | January 3, 2017

There are few symbols of pure Americana more potent than the Disney theme parks. To walk down any of the destinations’ manicured Main Streets, U.S.A.—as hundreds of thousands of visitors do each day—is to walk though a particular vision of America’s collective memory. It’s small-town values. It’s optimism. It’s energy. It’s innovation. It’s a certain kind of innocence. It is by design, the story of …

What It Means to Be American »

How Alpine Yodeling Mutated Into American Blackface Minstrelry

By | December 27, 2016

In 1822 the Austrian emperor Franz I and his ally Tsar Alexander I of Russia held a meeting in a remote valley of the war-torn Tyrolese Alps. They were entertained by the Rainers, a locally renowned family of singing farmers. When the visiting dignitaries heard the improvisational simplicity of the family’s performance of native Alpine songs, they encouraged the four Rainer brothers and their sister …

BROUGHT TO YOU BY