The North Star Project, 2013-2014 Report Number Forty-One, “Well, which America? There are many Americas.”, by Megan Hennen
Interlaken, Switzerland is an extreme sports hub known for drawing a special breed of tourist. Stepping off the train I was greeted by a sky littered with the parachutes of para-gliders and skydivers, looking up in the trees of the wooded area, there was an entanglement of ropes creating the intricate web of the Seilpark, and just walking down the street, people were seen prepping for a variety of other adrenaline-fueled sports such as whitewater rafting or glacier trekking. All of these thrilling pastimes unfolding before my eyes were contending with the overwhelming 360-degree view of the majestic Alps encompassing the town and the aquamarine waters of the lakes and river. With this stimulation-overload, it’s hard to believe that a single, simple conversation had such a lasting impact on me.
It started out with the standard, almost rehearsed introductions one runs into when meeting fellow travelers (what’s your name, where are you from, where are you going, etc.). As I was running through the laundry list of questions, this time with a group of students from Hong Kong, one of them asked me where home was. At this point I was still in the habit of answering with ‘Minnesota,’ which was typically followed by a face twisted into a puzzled expression to which I would correct myself with “I’m an American.” The correction had cleared up the confusion in my previous conversations, however this time the same perplexed look was staring back at me.
“Well, which America? There are many Americas.” This was something I’ve never encountered, let alone given thought to before, and I was now the one stunned into a momentary silence. She was right. The Western hemisphere is almost exclusively comprised of the Americas, yet there’s a single country that is often referred to as ‘America’ out of the entire conglomeration of regions named after the Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci (who landed in South America). So, does there need to be a redefining of identity of those inhabiting these fifty states, making a shift towards the identity of “US citizens,” or is being referred to as an “American” specific enough? And if being called “American” is enough, does that at all play into the exceptionalism revolving around our country?
For all of the North Star Project 2013-2014 Reports, see https://mgjnorthstarproject.wordpress.com/
For all of the North Star Project 2013 Summer Reports, see http://www2.css.edu/app/depts/HIS/historyjournal/index.cfm?cat=10
The North Star Project 2013-2014 School Year Reports: The Middle Ground Journal’s collaborative outreach program with K-12 classes around the world. We gratefully acknowledge North Star Academy of Duluth, Minnesota as our inaugural partner school, and the flagship of our K-12 outreach program. We also warmly welcome Duluth East High School and Dodge Middle School to the North Star Project.
Under the leadership of our North Star host teachers and student interns, The North Star Project has flourished for two years. For a brief summary, please see a recent article in the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at:
Having re-tooled and re-designed the collaborative program, we are drawing on the experience of our veteran student interns, ideas from our host teachers, and new projects provided by our incoming student interns. This school year The Middle Ground Journal will share brief dispatches from our North Star Project student interns, particularly from those who are currently stationed, or will soon be stationed abroad. As of the time of this report we have confirmed student interns who will be reporting from Mongolia, Southern China, Shanghai, northeastern China, The Netherlands, Tanzania, Ireland, England, Finland, Russia, and Haiti. We also have students developing presentations on theatrical representations of historical trauma, historical memory, the price individuals pay during tragic global conflicts, and different perceptions of current events from around the world. We will post their brief dispatches here, and report on their interactions with the North Star students and teachers throughout the school year.
Hong-Ming Liang, Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal, The College of St. Scholastica, Duluth, MN, USA, 2013-2014 School Year
(c) 2014 The Middle Ground Journal, Number 8, Spring, 2014. See Submission Guidelines page for the journal’s not-for-profit educational open-access policy.