I wavered between two possible themes for the A-Z Challenge, but after deciding there were plenty of grammar gurus out there already, I’ve chosen to blog about my work in progress, a composite novel titled Eighteen Crossroads.  

It’s kismet that Aniela’s name begins with A, since her story establishes the foundation of the whole cycle. Her spirit resides in nearly all of the characters who populate the rest of the stories in the collection, so it seems right to begin the Challenge with her.

Her story begins with her arrival in America in July of 1907. She’s eighteen—spunky, spirited, confident, and capable.

Since Poland was divided (or “partitioned”) in 1795, the area she hails from (Kowno) belongs to Russia.  This means she’s legally Russian, but she’s ethnically Polish. (Nobody in the United States who claims Polish roots is really Polish if they or their ancestors came to America between 1795 and 1918, since politically, Poland didn’t exist at all during that period.)

Like most other ethnic Poles of the time, Aniela is concerned with the perpetuation of a Polish national identity in the absence of a physical country to call her homeland. She doesn’t want to be American—she wants to be Polish in America, since it’s illegal to be Polish at home. America is the land of the free, she reasons, and therefore she should be free to be Polish if she wants to. But her desire to cling to her Polish identity conflicts with the American societal expectation that first-generation immigrants jump into the Melting Pot.

The whole cycle explores this challenge: the development of an American identity made up of other national identities belonging to immigrants who don’t necessarily have any desire to abandon them. The collection tells the stories of three generations as they variously embrace and reject Aniela’s version of the American dream.

What is an American, anyway? Is one American because one has settled here and is raising a family here? Or is American identity involved with something more?