Ineffable Americanism

Today is Election Day here in the U.S. At times like this where we solemnly--or, perhaps more typically, cynically--observe the rituals of democracy, I am reminded of the privileges I was born into. I have come to realize over my years that something difficult to name but easy to identify animates America and Americans. Ours is a country not defined by outward appearance or religion or even language, yet there is something about this land of mine that also makes it a land of ours. That something throughly permeates immigrants, making them wholly American, even if they still honor their family's history and culture.

Earlier in my professional life, I repeatedly travelled to factories in Asia, especially South Korea, to meet with engineers and businessmen there. On my very first visit, one of the serious faced engineers who filed into the room and sat across the table from me looked . . . different, somehow. I couldn't explain how he was different from his colleagues, maybe he held my eyes a bit longer, perhaps he carried himself with a slight swagger, but he was not the same as the other men (and they were all men that day) who filed in to meet with this visiting American.

At our first break I discovered why I spotted a difference. I had not previously known that companies in Korea had taken to hiring the American children of Korean immigrants help interface with colleagues and clients in the US; my new friend was the son of a couple who left South Korea for a better life in the US. He was fluent in both Korean and English, and earning a good living while learning first hand about his family's cultural roots. He told me that he was enjoying his time.

But he was still homesick. He still felt out of place. He was happy to see a lanky hillbilly in Busan.

After that first meeting, I made a private game of "spot the American" at each factory I visited. I imposed upon myself the requirement that I make my guess before anyone spoke. I never missed.

Something about America clings to our skins, no matter the color of that skin. An essence of the U.S. shoots through us, permeating our being. We are a big, messy extended family.

We are Americans. Go vote.