What It Means to Be American »

When Blackouts, Rations, and B-17 Bombers Brought World War II Home to Los Angeles

By | August 11, 2016

That Sunday, as on most Sundays, the family was gathered around the kitchen table listening to the radio. It was too early in the day for drama and comedy programs so we listened to a music show. The date was December 7, 1941. I was 11 years old.
“We interrupt this program to bring you this important news bulletin, ‘The Japanese …

What It Means to Be American »

Why a Contemporary Canadian Author Fell in Love With Famous Frontiersman Daniel Boone

By | August 9, 2016

I’m not American. My childhood social studies curriculum covered Canada’s geography and indigenous peoples, in French (le Saskatchewan, les Iroquois).
So I didn’t grow up learning about Daniel Boone and his exploration of the frontier around the time of the American Revolution. If I’d heard of him at all, I probably thought, like many people, he was fictional. But go back to my British Columbia …

What It Means to Be American »

The Story Behind Echo Park’s Mysterious Sidewalk Plaques for Sports Stars

By | August 4, 2016

Walking along Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles the other day I stumbled across an old acquaintance. On a small bronze plaque embedded into the sidewalk was the name Jimmy McLarnin, alongside a set of boxing gloves. In his prime, in the 1920s and 1930s, McLarnin was one of the baddest welterweights to climb into the ring. A two-time world champ, he fought at a time …

What It Means to Be American »

The Canadian Battle That Helped Create the U.S.

By | August 2, 2016

You can go to Quebec City, about 100 miles from the nearest U.S. border crossing, for the spectacular scenery, fine dining, great museums, and strolls through neighborhoods that date to the beginning of the 17th century.
Or you can go for the American history. Those who know of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham—fought September 13, 1759 on a plain named for the early French …

What It Means to Be American »

When Marrying a Native American Meant Renouncing Your U.S. Citizenship

By | July 28, 2016

Mixed couples in the United States—those who crossed boundaries between Indian Nations and the European newcomers—left permanent legacies well beyond the families they created. They also shaped the meaning of nation and citizenship.
Historically, U.S. policymakers were troubled by such marriages not only on the grounds of race, but also because they created conflicting loyalties within the American nation. The questions of consent and coercion …

What It Means to Be American »

How a “Barefoot Wall Street Lawyer” Took Over His Party’s 1940 Convention in Philadelphia

By | July 26, 2016

Later this week, the historic nomination of the first female candidate for president by a major political party at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia is sure to generate considerable hoopla. But, as with all U.S. presidential conventions in recent decades, the outcome is already certain.
Such predictability was not always the case. In fact, three-quarters of a century ago, the City of Brotherly Love played …

What It Means to Be American »

In the 1800s, a Famed Native American Translator Spoke Out Against American Hypocrisy

By | July 21, 2016

For the first few years of her life, Sarah Winnemucca, who was born around 1844, did not know that she was American. Born Thocmetony (Shell Flower) among the Numa (known among whites as the Northern Paiute or “digger” Indians), she roamed with her people over western Nevada and eastern Oregon, gathering plants and fish from local lakes. But even during her early years, Winnemucca had …

What It Means to Be American »

How Cleveland’s Millionaire’s Row Became a Paragon of Immigrant Civic Engagement

By | July 20, 2016

The Republicans are convening in Cleveland, and the Cleveland Cavaliers have won the NBA championship after a half-century long drought for Cleveland sports teams, putting intense focus on the city’s past and present. And so I, as a historian, keep getting asked to describe the “essence” of the city in which I live and which I have studied for a number of years.
Most inquiries …

What It Means to Be American »

Is There a More American Way to Beat the Heat Than Jumping Into a Swimming Hole?

By | July 14, 2016

Consider the swimming hole. It lacks the majesty of an ocean or the pedigree of a lake—forget about boating or surfing. A swimming hole is by its very nature utilitarian. It’s a hole. Filled with water. To swim in. Unlike its grander cousins, a swimming hole doesn’t exist on its own and doesn’t fulfill swimming hole-ness until someone actually gets in there and swims.
Swimming holes …

What It Means to Be American »

Our Current Canine Legal System’s Bizarre History Is Full of Rats, Pigs, and Moles

By | July 12, 2016

When a Japanese Akita named Taro bit the lip of a 10-year-old New Jersey girl in 1991, police seized the dog and a judge ordered him destroyed. Taro’s owners appealed to a higher court, while the canine, incarcerated at a county sheriff’s office, awaited execution. Newspapers dubbed him the “death row dog.”
A few years later, a Portsmouth, New Hampshire judge, in a modern version of …