The Old Neighborhood

Yesterday, the new commissioner of the Philadelphia Parks and Recreation Department made a speech introducing himself. He talked at length about his goals and vision, but he also spoke about his childhood in Kensington, “the old neighborhood next to the park”. His loyalty to Kensington was one of the cornerstones of the speech, and the audience seemed to really latch on to it.

But why did he mention Kensington? Why not Philadelphia or Pennsylvania or even America in general? I think the answer is rooted in American history. Because we’re a country built and populated by immigrants, we don’t have a single identity. Europeans do have national identities. London residents aren’t Paddington-ers or Regents Park-ers; they’re British. Parisians aren’t from the 20th arrondisement; they’re French.

But Americans are from neighborhoods. We live in Little Italy, SoHo, or the Village. We may wave the Flag, but our allegiances are clear- we’re with the old neighborhood.

Photo of Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park by david55king

Published in: on May 29, 2009 at 9:19 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Memorial Day

If you were parading in the streets on May 30th, 1968, you would probably be in a Memorial Day parade.  But if you were doing the same thing just 30 years before, you might not have even heard of Memorial Day.  No, you would be parading for Decoration Day.

Decoration Day, meant to celebrate the heroes of the Civil War, was the predecessor of Memorial Day.  It was the dominant term for the May 30th remembrance celebrations until after World War II, when Memorial Day came into common usage.  That’s interesting, but who cares?  Aren’t the two terms synonymous anyway?

Not to my thinking.  “Decoration Day” implies honor and acclaim for soldiers, while “Memorial Day” implies commemoration of their deaths.  One celebrates the glory of war, and one recognizes its tragedy.  So what changed?

Photo by

Well, World War II.  The brutality of that conflict (especially Hiroshima and Nagasaki) forced the world to look past the badges of honor and bravery and see the bloodshed.  No longer could we think exclusively of the glory of war heroes- we had to think of the deaths that brought them there.

But that does not mean the US does not admire great fighters.  In the past two weeks, I’ve seen at least thirty “Support Our Troops” bumper stickers- a sure sign that the country has not become overly jaded by the horrors of the battlefield.  But we’ve also come a long way from the rock star-esque status of George Custer in the Indian campaigns.  It’s a significant change in national consciousness that’s embodied in a simple word swap.

Published in: on May 25, 2009 at 9:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

The First Post: About The Blog

Have you ever wandered down the street, seen something interesting, and though “That’s so American”?  I have many times.  I believe that there’s a distinctiveness to American culture and ideals that crops up in everything from literature to music to little gadgets in a workshop somewhere.

Well, the other day, I decided to start this blog to document all those “That’s so American” moments.  As a first time blogger, I was slightly daunted at the prospect of sharing my thoughts on a regular basis, but I decided to give it a shot.  So, read my posts, ponder a little, and think about why some things are “so American”- what can those books, songs, tools, and gizmos tell us about the USA?

Published in: on May 23, 2009 at 9:02 pm  Leave a Comment