So, You Want to Be an American?

Monday, December 4, 2006

Our lives are divided into cultures and subcultures and circles -- our families, our schools, our jobs, our churches, our personal and collective history. Today Page Three offers a dispatch from the gateway to citizenship.

Here in the land of the free and home of the brave, you need to know a little bit of our history and philosophy if you want to join our club. That's not Professor Marblemouth (Intro to American History 101) talking. That's your Uncle Sam, who just came up with 144 new, tough questions for the citizenship test.

Surely, though, the test must be a cinch for those raised beneath the gaze of Old Glory and living in the shadow of the White House.


To find out, we turned to born and bred U.S. citizens in that most American of places: a shopping mall. At Tysons Corner Center, eight people bravely volunteered to prove their civic wisdom by submitting to a sampling of eight questions.

Well, most of them. It should be noted upfront that several respondents quit early.

It should also be noted that none of the subjects wanted his or her name to be printed.

And a few offered pre-quiz disclaimers.

"I hated history," said a bearish guy manning the Washington Capitals ticket kiosk. Yet he started strong, correctly answering the softball question -- What U.S. state is in the middle of the Pacific Ocean? -- and, after reflection and sighs, the one about a power held only by the federal government.

"Can I throw a funny one at you?" asked the man, 24, his hand on his hip. "Declare war."


Then, asked for the tallest mountain in the United States, he did not hesitate: "Mount Everest."

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