Just as we have an identity as individuals, a DNA, so do we as a nation. And that identity comes from our ancestors – the way they related to nature, the way they engaged with one another, the words that they used. Those words are a kind of depository of memory. Think of them as a database. They come from them, from our ancestors, and the same words that I’m using right now will be shipped into the future.

Of course, within that conversation that we’re having – past, present, and future – among ourselves, there are subgroups, people that connect with one another according to politics or to geography or to religion, to sports, to culture, to race, to ethnicity.

Yet all of us come together when we engage in that type of dialogue, and the dialogue is made of those words. Ultimately, those words is how we express who we are, the DNA, back into the world.

Ilan Stavans

Ilan Stavans
Lewis-Sebring Professor in Latin American and Latino Culture, Amherst College

Ilan Stavans is the Publisher of Restless Books  in addition to being a Professor. A cofounder of the Great Books Summer Program at Amherst, Stanford, Chicago, Oxford, and Dublin, he is the host of the NPR podcast “In Contrast.”

Individual Identity

Group Identity

National Identity