Learning what it means to be American from someone new
One of the first questions I ask someone I’m just getting to know is the meaning of his or her name. We are all named a name for a reason.
“She was my mom’s favorite singer the year I was born,” a student shared with me once. While movie actors or storybook characters are reasons that pop up once in a while, mostly, people I meet seemed to be given names to memorialize or celebrate something important. A person, a big life moment.
In the late 1990s, I met a girl named America. I always liked that name and thought more girls should be named it. America is not an accidental name or a name that doesn’t come with a story. This 1990s America was studying at a university. She was from another country and had a heavy accent. When she said the word America, she didn’t sound like America, the place I knew then.
I was too young to know then that American sounds came in different tones, voice levels, and accents. Where I grew up, everyone seemed to sound the same. Those that didn’t must have been from somewhere else.
America was from somewhere else, but she was here now, and she seemed very excited to be here. On a scholarship to play sports for university, she had a big personality and even a bigger smile. When she spoke with you, she had one of those ways of hooking you into the conversation.
When I first met her, I was looking at studying at the same university she was attending. It was one of the very first times I had left home to visit another state and to explore the reality of what life would be in a new place, with new people.
One of the first things America told me was that she was studying engineering. Her dad made things, but he wasn’t an engineer. After earning her degree, she knew she would be on her way to a good life, making money, buying a house, having a family, and making this country of ours a country of hers.
Still, I wasn’t sure where she was from. Her accent was one of those that could be from a Russian country or maybe somewhere else thousands of miles away. When she spoke in English, she sounded like someone that wanted her best to…