Column: What It Means To Be American
Published: Sunday, September 30, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01
At this point, another Parents’ Weekend has successfully come to a close. For most students, this means that their rooms are now stocked to the brim with all the essentials—paper towels, toilet paper, assorted toiletries, snacks, nut clusters, and writing utensils. For some students, this meant a trip to Newbury Street on Daddy’s credit card. For freshmen parents, it was a chance to allay the separation anxiety which they have been suffering from for all of three and a half weeks. For the rest of the parents, it was a chance to really see the school that their son or daughter attends.
For me, it was something else entirely. My mother has never been a fan of football and has always wanted to go to Vermont. A few years ago, one of her friends retired and opened a small B&B near Middlebury. An invitation extended, my mother jumped on the opportunity to visit over Parents’ Weekend. For my part, I was excited for a weekend getaway– some time for a little R&R.
What I didn’t think about was the chance to gain some perspective on my extremely sheltered life. Often, we talk about escaping the “BC Bubble,” but by that, we mean going into the city of Boston—a city that is itself a bubble with lots of other college students. We rarely talk about escaping the bubble that is metropolitan living.
I grew up in a suburb of Dallas and was fortunate enough to attend a small Catholic school and be surrounded by other well-off families. Although I grew up in Texas, I spent very little time in what most would consider the stereotypical small Texan town. I was raised in a metropolitan bubble and only left it to go to another metropolitan bubble when I came to BC.
While in Vermont, I stayed at a small B&B and spent Saturday driving around the countryside, viewing the foliage and taking in the beauty of small towns. There I saw what I felt was a glimpse of Americana. In one of the many general stores that I saw, there were a few old men sitting around and talking. I saw vast fields and people out tending them. Each town had a picturesque white church and a matching town hall. I wondered if many of the people I saw had ever left the state, much less the country.
While cities have been expanding for the last century, I think it is only recently that many city dwellers have lost touch with any relatives living in the countryside. A generation ago, there were more people living in Small Town, USA, and many urban and suburbanites at least knew some relatives out there. While this may just seem like the inevitable progress of history, it also has ramifications for how connected Americans are to each other.
I feel that it is safe to say that most BC students will either go to graduate school or get a job in a city after college. That is where they will live, work, and raise a family, unless they move to a nearby suburb. Those children too will be sheltered and see just a fraction of the vast expanse of Americana.
Perhaps this is just inevitable. America is a vast country and each region has a distinct subculture that weaves into the great tapestry of Americana. While we certainly all share some values that bring us together as a country, there are seemingly more things that are unique to a region. While the era of strong state loyalty has long since passed (except, perhaps, in my native Texas), I think it has been replaced by something much more amorphous. Now, we are all American, but I’m not quite sure that we really know how our fellow Americans understand that simple adjective.