Keyword – America

The term “American” can carry multiple connotations that stretch far beyond geographic borders. As Kirsten Silva Gruesz suggests in her piece, “America” in Keywords for Children’s Literature, the concept of “America” is not only associated with the territory of what is now the United States but also represents a system of shared values. Gruesz explains that “America” is the only nation which was founded on an idea of democratic equality rather than a shared racial ancestry or geographic region. The term “America” has generally been used in concurrence with novelty and new beginnings, with freedom and a utopian paradise. Though the definition of “America” has changed over time, the abstract ideas of liberty and independence have been rooted in national culture since it’s foundation. The concept of “America”, a land of riches, marvels, and opportunity, was invented before the land was even “discovered”. It was the promise of autonomy that drove many migrants to relocate to the area currently known as the United States. This optimistic reason for relocation can be seen in both American Girl stories, Meet Kirsten and Kirsten Learns a Lesson. In these texts, Kirsten, a nine-year-old Swedish girl is immigrating to America with her family in 1854. Kirsten’s family is moving to join in on the opportunity provided in the new nation of the United States and they are generally well-accepted into American culture. A key moment in Kirsten’s journey is her sporting her cousin’s clothing and “dressing as an American girl”. Throughout Kirsten’s texts, it becomes clear that she is more accepted as an “American girl” than her native friend, Singing Bird, though Kirsten wasn’t born on American soil. This narrative depicts that although America is to be “the land of the free”, not all opportunities and freedoms are meant for the same populations. The racialized division between who is considered “American” and who is not can also be seen in the wildly popular Broadway production and film, West Side Story. The song entitled “America” is performed by a group of young migrants from Puerto Rico who are arguing about the opportunities available to them in America. While one half of the party focuses on the industrial “boom” and growing economy; the other half of the party asserts that those opportunities are reserved for the “true Americans”, being white individuals. Clearly, there is a historical tie between race, ethnicity, and “American-ness” in that equal opportunities are only “equal” for some.

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