Was my father completely an American?
Well, he served in the Army in World War II and was trained by his country as an officer and engineer. He left the military with the rank of captain. He then graduated from Purdue University with a degree in chemical engineering, married an Irish Catholic and proceeded to procreate seven times.
Sounds like an American biography, to be sure. Possibly more American than me, a late baby boomer who was too young to be a hippie, too old to be of the post-Vietnam generation. But my father’s parents were Hungarian, and that was the language of his home when he was young. In Ohio.
I thought of my father and his experience while I listened to Patricia Park talk about the writing of her novel “Re Jane.” In her case, the character Jane is a New Yorker, but the child of refugees from Korea. As a Korean-American, not a Hungarian-American, Jane has the added bonus of appearing to be Asian in a country were too many assume that if you’re not white, you’re not from here. (Of course, to Native Americans, if you appear Asian you may appear more American than all those washed-out Europeans).
Ms. Park even wrote a column for The Guardian in which she discusses her reaction to the question “where are you from,” Queens not being the answer most are after.
As Americans, to some extent, many of us are partly rootless. Technically, I’m a Southern Man, but Neil Young wasn’t singing about me. Because I really have little cultural connection to the state of my birth (Tennessee). My early growing up was in that anchorless stew of American culture known as California. But by mid elementary school, I was an Iowan.
I guess it would be most accurate to say I think of myself as an Iowan, even if I’m not really from here.
Where is Patricia from? Her parents grew up on a small peninsula of Asia whose ownership was the subject of multiple wars in the 20th century. In America, her skin tone and eye shape marks here as some “other,” possibly Chinese or Japanese in the same easy way that too many of us may think of “Hispanic” as a synonym with “Mexican.”
Anyway, I liked hearing her speak. For a New Yorker, she speaks good American. She sounded more American than that other New Yorker, Donald Trump, but then again English is her native language. Given the hash he makes of nouns or verbs, I am not sure Donald has found his native language yet.
Ms. Park, a university professor from out East, was in her element in front of a largely student audience. She praised students for their ideas, and had a genuine rapport with the audience. It was interesting to hear how long—the better half of a decade—she spent working on her book.
She almost got Iowans to ask a few questions—not something that Iowans seem to naturally do.
Or so I assume. I’m not always from here.