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Welcome to Americana

By Parthiv N. Parekh Email By Parthiv N. Parekh
February 2012
Welcome to Americana Many years ago a business interest had me travel to a small town in the middle of Oklahoma. The owner of the motel I checked into turned out to be an Indian. A gracious host, he insisted I dine with his family each of the three nights I was there. As likeable as he and his family were, I soon noticed that so much of his conversation was about highlighting and exaggerating the differences between “us” Indians and “them” Americans. Here he was, in the middle of the American hinterland, with no one but “them” Americans to interact with, do business with, and pretty much live life with. And yet in his mind, Americans were foreign creatures, almost alien. I learned he had operated this motel for six years and had been living in the country for close to 21 years in all, but he was still living practically like an island unto himself.

  While this certainly stands out as an extreme example, to a degree, many of us are guilty of similarly isolating ourselves from the culture, history, and people of our adopted homeland. From cuisine to conversations, so much of our existence, even in America, is hogged by our Indianness. That in itself is not so bad; it is only a problem when such preoccupation comes at the cost of not also assimilating and immersing ourselves in American life and culture. There is no need for an either/or dichotomy here. We could continue to indulge in our Indian roots and at the same time do more to become American in practice and in spirit.                    William B. Fitzpatrick, the host of our new column, Americana, is precisely such a gifted storyteller. A proud American who cherishes the sensibilities of places and is curious about their history and people, he has travelled extensively across the length and breadth of this nation—most notably through a 2000-mile bicycle trip he undertook in the nineties.

In this age of Wikipedia, it is easy enough to learn about anything—including about Americana. But it is one thing to pick up dry historical facts from reference resources, and altogether another to benefit from a rich storytelling of a land and a culture.

William B. Fitzpatrick, the host of our new column, Americana, is precisely such a gifted storyteller. A proud American who cherishes the sensibilities of places and is curious about their history and people, he has travelled extensively across the length and breadth of this nation—most notably through a 2000-mile bicycle trip he undertook in the nineties. His interest in the stories of people and places he encountered during this journey, and his ability to tell them with wit and perception resulted in the book Bottoms Up, America.

What makes Fitzpatrick particularly qualified to write a column on Americana for Indian-American audiences is his keen interest and engagement with India and Indians in recent years. After having travelled to India in two eventful visits, he has co-authored the book Destination: India, Destiny: Unknown. A student of Indian culture and history, Fitzpatrick is uniquely positioned to translate American culture for Indian sensibilities.

The column will seek to touch upon various nuances of American culture and history, and shed light on regional character as highlighted by divergent labels such as “Deep South” with all its negative connotations, contrasted by “Southern Hospitality” and the charm of the South.

Bring on the grits and the pickled okra…and, oh yes, some apple pie!

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