What It Means To Be All-American: Lessons Learned at the Frontier Culture Museum in Staunton, VA

Earlier this Spring, I had the opportunity to tour the Frontier Culture Museum–a living historical museum–in Staunton, Virginia. The museum uses live interpreters who live in part on-site according to period-authentic ways to be able to explain what life was like for our ancestors. They make their clothes by hand all the way from growing and harvesting the product, weaving it into fabric, cutting and sewing their own garments. They raise livestock, bake in old hearths, and cook meals over open fire spits. It is an amazingly hands-on approach to teaching history. Taking walking tours here taught me so much about colonial and early American life. I finally understood my family tree. I listened and learned from the old ways what it really means to be an American. David McCullough explains the museum best in this video.

A Multicultural Past

Colonial America wasn’t “America” yet. It was a bunch of different countries learning how to live well and coexist in a new wilderness. They had a common desire to be successful and common enemies in pestilence, disease, and bad weather. Native Americans taught foreigners how to steward the land and make things grow in it. Foreigners taught each other how to build better houses, forge better materials, and work smarter. It was a partnership amongst all the cultures to live in peace and unity–to grow from each other not in spite of each other. Friendships were made which led to intermarriage. Families became diverse and multicultural. That was life in the New World.

As one country overstepped its bounds and tried to force the New World to pay its debts through higher taxes, rebellion talk filled the New World. The mix of family trees that had grown together into a forest of tangled roots wanted to become its own country. A then outspoken writer and theologian, Thomas Paine, wrote a pamphlet–Common Sense. It made everyone start to think they had rights given to them by God that they were obliged to protect and defend. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for every man began in those early conversations amongst the mixed cultures of our ancestors.

They didn’t know what a country of their own would look like, yet they knew it was necessary and possible. They knew it well enough to defend it and go to war for it. All odds were against us winning, but we did because God was on our side. He had plans to bless the world and get the glory for our new nation.

Once independence was won, ideas were pulled together to form what our new form of government would be. Ideas from early Native American tribal alliances, Christian theology, and old Greek and Roman politics informed the ideas that would become our American system of government. We still operate with that foundation of government today.

Learning From The Past

In today’s climate, we hear the buzz term “critical race theory”. This is the idea that one race (white) held every other race subjective to them in the past. It teaches people to believe that other races were slaves subjected to that superior race and therefore every aspect of their individual identity was erased by them.

Readers, that simply isn’t true.

We know from written records including first-hand accounts in letters and journals that it wasn’t true. We know from our DNA and family trees that it wasn’t true. Not every colored thread in my family DNA came from appropriation or oppression. Love and choice made those lines cross NOT hate and aggression.

So then, what do we learn from history? We learn to work together toward common goals, accept differences, and learn from each other. We learn to treat different cultures with curiosity and adopt behaviors that help us enjoy life and express ourselves better. We learn to love blind to racial differences and antiquated prejudice.

If it is a pie-in-the-sky idea to live with multicultural love and anti-racism, well then, that is the true all-American pie!

What Does It Mean To Be All American

To be all-American means to be constantly moving, learning, and innovating based on what we learn from the community with our neighbors. Americans don’t sit on their butts; they are constantly moving into the next great frontier.

Being all-American means being inclusive. You can’t be a society snob stuck in your own class structure or ignoring certain race groups that you dislike or don’t understand. An all-American spirit finds ways to learn from the ideas of others and adopt new techniques as their own. We make each other’s food. We build like what we learned from our neighbors. We adopt different values based on what we feel speaks to us in the cultures we call home. This is how musical instruments and genres grew as well as everything else we enjoy in America.

If this weekend finds you rejoicing with fireworks like many of us will be in America, then I challenge you to also consider in what ways your heart and life can reflect a more all-American attitude. In what ways can you be Jesus and love others today? In what ways can you explore other cultures than your own and learn from them?