Tag Archives: German

The American Girl.

This is my story. I was, from birth, an American girl. Only in America can a girl tell such a story, and only here will her story be acceptably distinct from the next.

Initially published in the 1950’s, “AMERICAN GIRL” was a magazine intended to help lead the nubile female through adolescence – her self image soundly indoctrinated and properly refined. But, that was the 1950’s. I was born too soon.

Raised by a strict subculture, its roots in sectarian Fundamentalism, I was never a subscriber to “AMERICAN GIRL” or any magazine intended solely for female teens. And, that is only the beginning.

Though born in 1957, post – 911 profiling in the United States and abroad was no news to me. I had effectively known it my entire life. Rather than systemic racism or any of its tangents (prejudice, bias), what I knew was that the way I looked consistently misled nearly everyone.

As a child, all I needed do was enter a room to be visually assessed. At maternal family gatherings, I didn’t look like any of the other cousins. While bearing inherently many of their traits – talkativeness, musical aptitude, a bit of clamoring – I would never have been named as among them by most outsiders unless one looked past the obvious.

The obvious was that my skin was a degree of brown. In those days, the term was “olive”. Neither the warm tones of the American southwest nor the African cafe au lait, it was a cooler hue given to darkening quickly under the sun’s rays and sallowing in winter.

The reason for my immediately distinct appearance was, at that time, simple; my mother’s side populated the extended gatherings, and hers was a mix of paternal Anglo-Saxon and maternal Danish/German. My father not having been raised by either parents or relations, his Napolitan/Sicilian people were never represented in my sphere. We visited them once, when I was five.

When I was just a toddler, mum would braid my long, nearly black hair. Having already borne a brilliant male child and birthed another soon after me, she might have argued too busy to dote upon her daughter with the expected buttons and bows; rather, corduroy overalls and sunsuits were the order of my apparel, mixing into the boys laundry with practical propriety given one, single exception: Sunday dress. Here, Mum’s premiere dressmaking skill shone, every even seam topstitched with rick-rack, every smock uniformly tooled, each elastic, cap sleeve unbearably scratchy with only occasional, stiffly starched lace. Perhaps for this reason alone I would grow to dread going to Meeting, what for the sheer lack of physical comfort being costumed afforded.

Once grown, I would carry a structure of frame and face that distinguished me from all who knew me well. But, those who did might have missed its significance.

Our northwestern Pennsylvania community having been founded first by Irish port fishermen and, a bit later, German machinists, its ultimately large Italian population would take claim on the city’s west side; however, my father having hailed from Boston, none of the Italians on that side of town resembled him or, more importantly, called him family. They were mostly Sicilian or Calabrese, hair black, faces round, skin not as dark, many with blue eyes. To every Italian who lived either there or on our east side, dad was “swarthy” – bearing the aquiline nose and angular jawline less familiar to their ilk.

I would inherit these features. Interestingly, Mum’s father’s nose was also regally aquiline – but, his parents being from the Cornwall coast of England, their heritage was Roman influenced. None the matter; strangers increasingly thought me a pure Italian, even first generation Rome, and nearly every one of them was sure I had been raised Catholic on the west side.

Nobody ever saw the W.A.S.P, though the revelation would sting many with surprise. My behavior never fit the image I bore. Only expressing the occasional Italianate gesticulation, my Puritanical, closed off social limits left many scratching their heads. I carried a Bible. I shunned dances, and parties, and anything likely to tempt the average teen. Mine was a life of Godly fear, and compliance was the order of my carriage.

Of natural course, college education at a nearby New York institution offered me welcome respite; there, blending remarkably well with those from “the city” or “the island” I no longer appeared odd, resembling many. And, higher learning on one of the country’s most liberal, secular campuses meant that none were judged by appearance alone. I flexed my stunted wings, learning far more than the arts and sciences, and grew to both relish and celebrate every aspect of my heretofore anomalous self.

In my case, childhood may have been one of mistaken identity; in adulthood, I now proudly represent the culmination of nature and nurture informed by as random a set of features as the melting pot will bear.

And, for that, no magazine is required.

Who is the American Girl? Allow me to introduce you. Properly.



© 8/25/2020 Ruth Ann Scanzillo. All rights those of the author, whose story it is and whose name appears above this line. No copying, in part or whole or by translation, permitted without written permission of the author. Thank you for your respect.


What Happens When Language Changes.


The French woman was adamant.


The Swiss woman sat, staring at her. The English couple, from Trent, lifted their chins just slightly. Next to them, the German husband arched his back. His wife wilted, averting her downcast eyes, and the American’s widened.

These all sat around the dinner table, in Zurich, on a Sunday. It was a Bible conference weekend, but this was a bigger deal.

The French woman was talking about language.

She said you have to live among the people, and learn the language. Only then will you know the culture. Because, and she closed emphatically, the culture is in the language.

That was 1984.

* * * *

In 2019, we might be members of a culture whose language remains a leading means of discourse among the powerful. But, as English speaking people, our culture has changed.

There are words which have been added to our lexicon which have become so embedded in it that we hardly realize there was ever a time when they were not there.

Here are two of them, taken separately.

“Reproductive” and “rights”.

Reproductive — having the capacity to reproduce.

Rights — (n.) moral or legal entitlements to act.


But, taken together, they form a term, embodying a concept. “Reproductive rights” refer to a specific entitlement, that being: to bear a child.

The problem is, this term has evolved to become broader in scope than one might have initially perceived. No longer merely representing the right to bear a child, it has come to also mean the right not to. And, this evolution has been driven by social forces.

Plus — in the present day, not only are we talking about the right to or not to bear a child, this term has actually become one which encompasses a concept never actualized by humans born before 1930. Reproductive rights have come to represent the option to cease carrying a child already conceived.

In our language.

In our time.

The intractable problem with this is: now, the public debate tosses this term to and fro, throwing it around as a tool supporting any number of arguments from the right to receive compensation to emotional support, counseling, products, services, and all manner of supplemental medical procedures. Now, women fight to preserve their reproductive rights, their choice as women to make exclusive decisions about their bodies, decisions which are exempt from anyone else’s decision-making power.

Reproductive rights have melded into one argument, when they are actually two, distinct and even unrelated. And, the fundamental problem is one of conflation.

Somehow, the right to make independent decisions affecting one’s body, as a woman (or, as a man) has become conflated with another right, that of the option to dispense with a conceived embryo which has nested in one’s uterus, having begun the process leading toward birth. While the female body belongs to one, independent person, once conception occurs that independence is, in part, forfeited — because another life exists inside of it.

There are English speaking women to whom the term”reproductive right” is moot. These have already acknowledged that, once fertile, each of them bears both the ability and the responsibility of conceiving another human being. As such, they exercise only the right to be that vessel, should conception occur. To them, there is no other right. The right to bear a child is beyond the right they have over their own body. There is no argument. There is only the honor of a higher calling.

And so, embodied in its language, the very culture is divided. And, living amongst its people, this disparity is palpable.

Someone once said that the English language is the most inconsistent on the planet, riddled with exceptions to the rule of order.

Does this also reflect a problem within the culture?

If she could, would the French woman speak to this, and what might be said?

One wonders whether silence would be required by all.








© 5/25/19   Ruth Ann Scanzillo.