Cover image for I like being American : treasured traditions, symbols, and stories
I like being American : treasured traditions, symbols, and stories
Leach, Michael, 1940-
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Doubleday, [2003]

Physical Description:
xi, 191 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
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E169.1 .I17 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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An anthology of first-person anecdotes, thought-provoking essays, historical documents, quotes, and illustrations, "I Like Being an American" offers captivating perspectives on the sense of pride, loyalty, and gratitude that inspires and sustains Americans in good times and bad. The contributors range from such well-known figures as Colin Powell (who honors the American GI), Bill Bradley (who reveals in a simple story the complexities of America's race relations), Anna Quinlan (whose "Quilt of a Country" embraces the American tradition of tolerance and multiculturalism) to immigrants from every corner of the globe, who celebrate the myriad opportunities and freedoms of their new homeland. A chapter on the American hero celebrates the five new role models of the country -- teachers, firefighters, GIs, parents, and volunteers -- each section written with the warmth and candor reminiscent of the neighbor next door. And one of the nation's favorite pastimes -- the creation of top-ten lists -- is represented, too, in a delightful miscellany that embraces everything from songs, movies, and books."I Like Being an American" is not about patriotism or nationalism or any ism. It is simply about what the philosopher Teilhard de Chardin called "the chosen part of things." Entertaining, enlightening, and at times controversial, it is a book of rare candor and of great spirit, showcasing in words and pictures why 300 million people -- famous and unknown, young, old, midd

Author Notes

Michael Leach, a founder and the president of Continuum Publishing and president and publisher of Crossroads/Continuum Publishing, is the executive editor of Orbis Books. He lives in Greenwich, Connecticut.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 1

Booklist Review

Leach, co-editor of I Like Being Catholic (2000) and I Like Being Married (2002), provides another collection in the same passionate vein. In this one he combines a host of anecdotes, essays, quotations, observations, speeches, and illustrations into one spectacular paean of praise to America. While attempting to identify what is best about this nation and what makes us all uniquely American, he has gathered the humorous, heartfelt, and stirring reflections of both this nation's idols and its ordinary citizens. Thematic elements that bind these individual visions together are the qualities that true Americans treasure most: courage, creativity, opportunity, perseverance, equality, and freedom. A treasure trove of Americanisms and Americana. Margaret Flanagan



Chapter One The American Family E pluribus unum--out of many, one. --Motto on the Great Seal of the United States There are birds of many colors--red, blue, green, yellow--yet it is all one bird. There are horses of many colors--brown, black, yellow, white--yet it is all one horse. So cattle, so all living things--animals, flowers, trees. So men: in this land where once were only Indians are now men of every color--white, black, yellow, red--yet all one people. That this should come to pass was in the heart of the Great Mystery. It is right thus. And everywhere there shall be peace. --Hiamovi (High Chief) Chief of Cheyennes and Dakotas The Indian Book Americans are not a single ethnic group. Americans are not of one race or one religion. Americans emerge from all your nations. We are defined as Americans by our beliefs--not by our ethnic origins, our race, or our religion. Our beliefs in religious freedom, political freedom, and economic freedom--that's what makes an American. Our belief in democracy, the rule of law, and respect for human life--that's how you become an American. It is these very principles--and the opportunities these principles give to so many to create a better life for themselves and their families--that make America, and New York, "a shining city on a hill." There is no nation, and no city, in the history of the world that has seen more immigrants, in less time, than America. People continue to come here in large numbers to seek freedom, opportunity, decency, and civility. Each of your nations--I am certain--has contributed citizens to the United States and to New York. I believe I can take every one of you someplace in New York City, where you can find someone from your country, someone from your village or town, that speaks your language and practices your religion. In each of your lands there are many who are Americans in spirit, by virtue of their commitment to our shared principles. --Mayor Rudy Giuliani United Nations General Assembly October 1, 2001 America is not like a blanket--one piece of unbroken cloth, the same color, the same texture, the same size. America is more like a quilt--many patches, many pieces, many colors, many sizes, all woven and held together by a common thread. The white, the Hispanic, the black, the Arab, the Jew, the woman, the Native American, the small farmer, the businessperson, the environmentalist, the peace activist, the young, the old, the lesbian, the gay, and the disabled make up the American quilt. --Jesse Jackson, American human rights activist A Quilt of a Country By Anna Quindlen America is an improbable idea, a mongrel nation built of ever-changing disparate parts, it is held together by a notion, the notion that all men are created equal, though everyone knows that most men consider themselves better than someone. "Of all the nations in the world, the United States was built in nobody's image," the historian Daniel Boorstin wrote. That's because it was built of bits and pieces that seem discordant, like the crazy quilts that have been one of its great folk-art forms, velvet and calico and checks and brocades. Out of many, one. That is the ideal. The reality is often quite different, a great national striving consisting frequently of failure. Many of the oft-told stories of the most pluralistic nation on earth are stories not of tolerance, but of bigotry. Slavery and sweatshops, the burning of crosses and the ostracism of the other. Children learn in social-studies class and in the news of the lynching of blacks, the denial of rights to women, the murder of gay men. It is difficult to know how to convince them that this amounts to "crown thy good with brotherhood," that amid all the failures is something spectacularly successful. Perhaps they understand it at this moment [in the aftermath of 9/11], when enormous tragedy, as it so often does, demands a time of reflection on enormous blessings. This is a nation founded on a conundrum, what Mario Cuomo has characterized as "community added to individualism." These two are our defining ideals; they are also in constant conflict. Historians today bemoan the ascendancy of a kind of prideful apartheid in America, saying that the clinging to ethnicity, in background and custom, has undermined the concept of unity. These historians must have forgotten the past, or have gilded it. The New York of my children is no more Balkanized, probably less so, than the Philadelphia of my father, in which Jewish boys would walk several blocks out of their way to avoid the Irish divide of Chester Avenue. (I was the product of a mixed marriage, across barely bridgeable lines: an Italian girl, an Irish boy. How quaint it seems now, how incendiary then.) The Brooklyn of Francie Nolan's famous tree, the Newark of which Portnoy complained, even the uninflected WASP suburbs of Cheever's characters: they are ghettoes, pure and simple. Do the Cambodians and the Mexicans in California coexist less easily today than did the Irish and Italians of Massachusetts a century ago? You know the answer. What is the point of this splintered whole? What is the point of a nation in which Arab cabbies chauffeur Jewish passengers through the streets of New York--and in which Jewish cabbies chauffeur Arab passengers, too, and yet speak in theory of hatred, one for the other? What is the point of a nation in which one part seems to be always on the verge of fisticuffs with another, blacks and whites, gays and straights, left and right, Pole and Chinese and Puerto Rican and Slovenian? Other countries with such divisions have in fact divided into new nations with new names, but not this one, impossibly interwoven even in its hostilities. Once these disparate parts were held together by a common enemy, by the fault lines of world wars and the electrified fence of communism. With the end of the cold war there was the creeping concern that without a focus for hatred and distrust, a sense of national identity would evaporate, that the left side of the hyphen--African-American, Mexican-American, Irish-American--would overwhelm the right. And slow-growing domestic traumas like economic unrest and increasing crime seemed more likely to emphasize division than community. Today the citizens of the United States have come together once more because of armed conflict and enemy attack. Terrorism has led to devastation--and unity. Yet even in 1994, the overwhelming majority of those surveyed by the National Opinion Research Center agreed with this statement: "The U.S. is a unique country that stands for something special in the world." One of the things that it stands for is this vexing notion that a great nation can consist entirely of refugees from other nations, that people of different, even warring religions and cultures can live, if not side by side, then on either side of the country's Chester Avenues. Faced with this diversity there is little point in trying to isolate anything remotely resembling a national character, but there are two strains of behavior that, however tenuously, abet the concept of unity. There is the Calvinist undercurrent in the American psyche that loves the difficult, the demanding, that sees mastering the impossible, whether it be prairie or subway, as a test of character, and so glories in the struggle of this fractured coalescing. And there is a grudging fairness among the citizens of the United States that eventually leads most to admit that, no matter what the English-only advocates try to suggest, the new immigrants are not so different from our own parents or grandparents. Leonel Castillo, former director of the Immigration and Naturalization Service and himself the grandson of Mexican immigrants, once told the writer Studs Terkel proudly, "The old neighborhood Ma-Pa stores are still around. They are not Italian or Jewish or Eastern European any more. Ma and Pa are now Korean, Vietnamese, Iraqi, Jordanian, Latin American. They live in the store. They work seven days a week. Their kids are doing well in school. They're making it. Sound familiar?" Tolerance is the word used most often when this kind of coexistence succeeds, but tolerance is a vanilla-pudding word, standing for little more than the allowance of letting others live unremarked and unmolested. Pride seems excessive, given the American willingness to endlessly complain about them, them being whoever is new, different, unknown, or currently under suspicion. But patriotism is partly taking pride in this unlikely ability to throw all of us together in a country that across its length and breadth is as different as a dozen countries, and still be able to call it by one name. When photographs of the faces of all those who died in the World Trade Center destruction are assembled in one place, it will be possible to trace in the skin color, the shape of the eyes and the noses, the texture of the hair, a map of the world. These are the representatives of a mongrel nation that somehow, at times like this, has one spirit. Like many improbable ideas, when it actually works, it's a wonder. --Anna Quindlen, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, is the author of the bestselling A Short Guide to a Happy Lif e and three acclaimed novels, Object Lessons, One True Thing, and Black and Blue. Chicago is a city of neighborhoods. Mine was Polish American. It wasn't until I went to high school that I met and became friends with Irish, German, Italian, Lithuanian, and other Americans with roots in foreign lands. I was ordained a Catholic priest in 1966 and have spent the rest of my life serving in an African American community. It's on the other side of town of my original neighborhood and yet so very close. I could not have been made to feel more welcomed anywhere on earth. My vision of what is good and beautiful and true has simply broadened. I grew up in one community with a particular style and expression, and have moved into another with a different style and expression. I'm referring to verbal expression, food, music, ways of celebrating, spirituality, humor, and more. Each one is unique to that culture, and I have been privileged to live in and experience both. I have learned, of course, that neither one--nor any single expression--can encompass all that is good and true and beautiful about America. America is at once apple pie and pierogi, soul food and pasta, Tex-Mex and Cantonese. What is so wonderful about our country is precisely that: no one group has an exclusive hold on "the American idea." Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, agnostic, or none of the above, are all American. Our nation was founded on this idea and I'm grateful for it. It's why I like being American, wherever I'm privileged to live and serve. --Rev. Thomas Kaminski Chicago, Illinois I came to America from Middlesbrough, England, in 1973. My next intelligent choice was to marry Brigid, an Irish American girl from New York. In time we would adopt four children, two from Korea, one from Colombia, and one from Paraguay. "Only in America" is not a cliche in the Gollogly family. I didn't become a citizen right away though. I lived in New York and enjoyed the fruits of American life but still considered myself a Brit. After our first two children, Lila and Mura, came, I took them to be naturalized at the County Courthouse in downtown Manhattan. More than two hundred people from all over the world filled the huge courtroom, all of them eager to invest themselves in the American idea. I rubbed shoulders with people from Nigeria, Brazil, China, Yemen, India, Haiti, and Russia. Donald Trump was even there, accompanying his wife Ivana who was born in Czechoslovakia. Brigid was home with the flu, so I had my hands full with our two new children, one and three years old. People who had come from all over the world gladly lent me a hand. The judge came in to administer the oath, but first he spoke from his heart about the country he loved. I will never forget it. He shared what America had meant to his grandmother who had fled pogroms in the Ukraine. She kept her naturalization certificate under her bed and would often take it out and gaze at it in gratitude. The judge stressed the profound value of a country where freedom of speech and freedom of religion were as natural as the seasons. And he talked about how we all had to work and live together, and of the privilege of paying our fair share of taxes for the things we all need in common: roads, firemen, police, ambulances, traffic lights, schools, airports, and so much more. The country could work only if everyone who lived here worked together and shared together. Right then and there I resolved to become an American. The judge held up ideals I could not ignore and which beat in the deepest part of my heart. "Rule Britannia," "The Queen," and all that? I loved my native England, but here in America, in the midst of diversity, I saw true democracy at work. Here was a vision that I wanted to embrace with all my heart. I had to wait another two years for my turn to come, but when it did I could not have taken the oath more fervently, or believed in it more sincerely. I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God. In acknowledgment whereof I have hereunto affixed my signature. From that day on I have been grateful to be a member of the American family. --Gene Gollogly New York, New York America has been my home for sixty-three years. Gratitude fills my heart every time I gaze at the Statue of Liberty and think of the hundreds of thousands of immigrants that she has welcomed. I am filled with gratitude as I walk the halls of Congress and realize that we have a democratic form of government, that we are free of political oppression. I give thanks for the Redwoods of California, the mountains of Montana, our "old man" Mississippi, the prairies of Nebraska, the lakes of Minnesota, the rough coasts of Maine, and, being from Green Bay, the Packers. Joy fills my heart as we, nationwide, remember our military personnel on Memorial Day, sit at a table at Thanksgiving in November, illumine a July night in celebration of independence. My soul finds nourishment in reading Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, our Constitution, the Bill of Rights. I give thanks for our educational institutions: one-room schoolhouses, our prestigious universities, our pragmatic technical schools, our libraries and museums. I am grateful that we, as Americans, can say "one nation under God" and "liberty and justice for all." --Bishop Robert Morneau Green Bay, Wisconsin Excerpted from I Like Being American: Treasured Traditions, Symbols, and Stories by Michael Leach All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.