I often hear it said that America isn't a real country or that there are no such people as Americans. That's an easy enough case to make from behind a keyboard, but a harder case to make if you've ever been to Europe, where Americans are instantly recognizable even if they're visiting places their families came from. It's especially a harder case to make at Thanksgiving, when Americans all celebrate a holiday that is uniquely ours.
Tying these two strands together, here is a story from a Jesuit friend who's spent time in Rome. On what is just an ordinary Thursday for Romans, American priests living in the Eternal City make a point of getting together for Thanksgiving dinner. This requires more preparation than it does here, since some ingredients simply cannot be found in Rome, such as cranberry sauce. Those men gather as Americans and give thanks for being Americans. (My priest friend, despite a deep knowledge of and appreciation for European culture, is quite appreciative of the way things get done in the United States in a way they don't in Italy).
Despite our many and undoubted problems, we should all give thanks that we are Americans. In 1869, my direct paternal ancestors lived in a one room house in a country where it was impossible to get even a high school education in their native tongue. They owned no land, and their most significant possessions were two cows. My Dad, whose grandfather left that village for Cleveland, earned a Master's degree in engineering management and has lived a life that his forebears could not even have imagined. In addition to everything else, America was the first country to enable large numbers of ordinary people to attain a reasonable level of material well-being, and the first to even to regard that as something important and desirable. Something to think about and to be grateful for, at Thanksgiving and throughout the year.
Thomas Piatak is a contributing editor to Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He writes from Cleveland, Ohio.