Becoming "American"

Yesterday, the Newton History Museum invited me to meet with six teen curators who are organizing a February 2006 exhibit about immigrant life. Sheila Sibley, a curator with the gift of hospitality, had prepared the room immaculately, complete with folders, pens, notebooks, chilled water, chips, cookies, a projector, screen, and a congenial atmosphere. We told our stories and reflected on struggles with accents and languages, conflicts with parents about friendship and marriage, a fusion of tastes in clothes, music and food.

One of the students commented on the tentative title of the exhibit: "Becoming American." "How do you define the word 'American'?" she asked. "How do people finish the sentence, 'I'm an American now, because I BLANK'?" Excellent question. The answer goes beyond "I'm a citizen," because some Americans have dual citizenship but still would say they're American. It's more than "I can vote," because otherwise kids aren't American. So, how would you fill in the blank?