Being American

Last night when I was reacting/responding to Maureen Corrigan’s book review (Peter said I looked like I was getting ready to sharpen my claws. I didn’t know I had that kind of look.) I couldn’t stop thinking about her line about being an American reader.

“But the weird fascination of Please Look After Mom is its message — completely alien to our own therapeutic culture — that if one’s mother is miserable, it is indeed, the fault of her husband and her ungrateful children. As an American reader — indoctrinated in resolute messages about ‘boundaries’ and ‘taking responsibility’ — I kept waiting for irony; a comic twist in the plot; a reprieve for the breast-beating children.”

Besides being confused about her line about kimchee-scented Kleenex fiction I am wondering, quite honestly, what Corrigan meant by being an “American reader” because she and I both are just that.

Until college I grew up understanding that being American meant being White/Caucasian/of Eastern European descent or being African American, which was very different than White American but still American.

It meant apple pie (which I don’t recall actually making unless it was the frozen variety until adulthood) and baseball (which we didn’t grow up watching). It meant your ancestors were either connected to Plymouth Rock or Ellis Island. Being American meant no one asked you where you came from or where you learned your English or told you to go back to where you came from or to learn English.

So, while I know many of my readers tend to be a bit shy about commenting on the blog publicly because it can be a bit crazy out here I am asking all of you to comment, however brief it may be, to help fill out the picture of being American.

When you think of being American what comes to mind? Who do you imagine? What does being an American reader mean? How do Americans see things, experience things, communicate things?


  1. SandySays1 April 15, 2011

    I asked my human to read your post. He made this comment. “Being an American is a unique experience for so many of us, its difficult to catagorize. A lot depends on geography, town size, community make up, and parental guidance. That’s a good thing, not a bad one. I grew up on a football field where differences in character and effort over shadowed visible physical and ethnic variations. Being self-reliant, but functioning as a contributor to an objective is what I see as an American.” So sayeth, the Geezer.

  2. Becky Ferguson April 15, 2011

    I think she chose the wrong adjective and her editor didn’t catch it. I don’t perceive that we, by dint of being American, are in fact “indoctrinated in resolute messages about ‘boundaries’ and ‘taking responsibility,’” as Corrigan asserts. On the contrary, I’m a 40-something-year-old with not a little life experience and a good amount of reading behind me, but these are fairly new concepts to me. Or perhaps she has (errantly) assumed that because she is American and she has clearly received these resolute messages, then all Americans must also have received them, regardless of their origins, and therefore they are a part of everyone’s context. They aren’t. Do you think I’m letting her off the hook for not being more careful with her wording? 😉 Do you like the way I also fault the editor? Deadlines are odd things. Maybe they both saw it as their own truth and therefore throwing the word American in front of reader did not jar them. Ah…there’s the problem.

  3. Lisa April 15, 2011

    It seems like she accidentally reviewed Korean culture under the guise of reviewing the book.

    Post-Alexandra Wallace, I just keep thinking about how we approach differences–the dissonance we feel, the protectiveness over our own values, the hatred or anger toward the other, and the criticisms. Sometimes differences seem cool, but our sin shows the dark underbelly of how we approach difference.

    As a Christian and a person cross-culturally married I feel these dark pulls at times and I know Jesus is calling me to let the gospel transform me in my response to differences.

    Alexandra Wallace and this review are two examples laid right out on the table for why we all need to spend some time with the “Approaching Differences Diagram,” least we walk away with epiphanies about “American manners” or ridiculous jokes about “kimchee scented Kleenex.”


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