Sometimes, I feel like I could burst at the seams from being overstuffed with thoughts. One topic usually flows to another, and before I know it, I have a massive web of interrelated pondering and feelings that more than likely will go with me to the grave because I am unsure of how to approach them without staring the demon of perfectionism in the face.
This topic is one that I feel is a gateway to learning to just write it down and get it out, because it is one that I absolutely want my posterity to know I care about.
It’s a delicious morning. I’m sitting in our screened-in porch. There is a steady breeze. The sky is cloudless, and the sun not too hot. I watered my herb garden and tomatoes. The neighbors two doors down have a bonfire going and the air smells like charred pine and sweeps me off to home in the Upper Peninsula, where dune grass and white pine grow in sandy soil along the shores of Lake Superior, and folks live in a perpetual state of taking time to enjoy the beauty of it all with loved ones. I just slipped out from under the shaded porch to take a peek at the roses and violets on the east corner of my backyard, and a gorgeous little scene peeked back at me between the roofs of houses – white clouds floating over green mountain peaks, and tall, slender cypress or Lombardy poplar-type trees framing the sliver of a view.
I [perhaps not shamefully enough] slept in far too late, which doesn’t often happen. We had stake conference at 10 a.m. today, but I was awake until nearly 2 a.m. waiting for Yossiho to get home from picking up our friend Giovanni from work (they ended up getting tacos and Giovanni was dressed for salsa dancing). I woke up at 10:26 a.m. and felt like I got hit by a train in my sleep – must have been the binge fest I had last night with a Totino’s sausage pizza (it’s so terrible, but I love that crust) and a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Karamel Sutra Core, washed down with a Pepsi Fire. I feel gross just thinking about it. I’ve been religiously eating gorgeous foods that come straight from the earth to dig up my metabolism and faithfully devoting myself to almost-daily cardio in attempts to heal my body and be a healthy vessel for pregnancy in the not-too-distant future, but something about wandering the aisles of the grocery store at 11 p.m. on an empty stomach makes the thought of a Redbox and cream cheese wontons with a side of pizza rolls sound so much more appealing than eating the Granny Smith apples that I also put in my cart.
Last night, I fell asleep watching Hidden Figures. So far, it’s a great movie that just added to my ponderings. Chained together with a post I read this morning about a charter school that sings two verses of the national anthem every Friday, the feeling I get when I say the pledge and sing the national anthem every first Friday at my Eastern Star meetings, Independence Day (my favorite holiday) coming up, daily Facebook memories popping up from my travels, seeing a soldier in uniform in line at Panda Express at the mall yesterday, and the current political climate, I’ve got a giant wad of thought that is begging to get out. My terminology may not be correct, and I may not be eloquent. But how I feel does not need correcting.
I love my country. The United States of America. No amount of unrest will make me turn my back on it. I don’t always agree with my leaders, but I’m grateful for the gift of the process we have to vote for political leaders. Our preferred candidate will not always win, and the winner will not always represent our personal convictions. We will often feel like I no longer identify as citizen of the United States of America, because our collective views are not being seen by the global stage. We may feel lost in a sea of millions, without a national identity.
But we will always be “American.”*
Many of us were born here, another descendant generation from a line of those born here, eventually tracing our heritage back to an ancestor to immigrated here. Nearly every single immigrant came to this gorgeous country looking for something new and a better opportunity, whether freedom to worship however they wished, or to leave behind a peasant life and sail after a dream of opportunity, wealth, stability, and a future for their posterity. My ancestry is quite mixed and not many of my lines have been established in this country since the colonial era, but were poor peasants, craftsmen, and laborers seeking prosperity. My father’s paternal line were French-Canadians who came to Michigan in the last decade of the 19th century for work as lumberjacks. That line splits with one ancestor coming to Canada from Ireland, but nothing is known of him. His maternal line is split: most of the maternal side [which I’m just now taking the time to research] had been established in the U.S. since the time between the Mayflower and the Revolutionary War, most patriots, and the paternal side came from Germany and from England via Canada, all loyalists. My mother’s paternal line came to Michigan from Poland in the last quarter of the 19th century, just a couple decades pre-Ellis Island. They settled in an area of Michigan that similar to the climate of their homeland, and even named after the area of Prussia from whence they came – Posen. My mother’s maternal line came the latest, in the 1890s and early 1900s, peasant immigrants from western Sicily, who settled in Detroit.
Many of us are first-generation Americans, whose homelands are less removed from us. Our parents came specifically for us to have better opportunities. They already knew us by name, or knew that we would one day be their child, and they had us in mind. They came to work hard to support us, and to give us abundant work opportunities and a valued education. They wanted us to have the chance to speak English, which is a world language, and hoped we would desire to keep their homelands in our hearts.
And then there are those of us who are Americans who came here on our own accord. We are not citizens, and many are not even permanent residents, but we hope with all our hearts to be accepted and be permitted to be accepted as one of Her own. We came here because history has showed us what America is, and it was always our biggest dream to be a part of it. We imagined prosperity in work, capitalism, and for our children. As difficult as it was to say goodbye to our homelands, we left them to come here, unsure when we would get the chance to see our country or our families again, except through a 3.5” screen on a ten minute FaceTime call. We left because there was not much work, the wages were not fair, the governments were not just, the police did not protect. For some of us, seeing machine guns as a normal occurrence, while for others, clean drinking water was a commodity and not a basic standard of living. This group includes my husband, who came to the U.S. from Mexico permanently when he was 31 years old, because he always dreamed of living here since a child. He has worked hard to be successful and now earns more than I do, without a college degree. When I find myself selfishly wallowing in my standard of living not matching a Pinterest world, I listen to him talk to his friends back home and send the pictures of all he has worked to earn – his cars, his keyboards, our couch, our weekend road trips, our grill, our tiny rented basement apartment, the employees that he manages. I am brought back to earth and reminded of the simple principle of gratitude for what is mine.
Finally, there are those of us who many don’t consider Americans at all. It wasn’t our life plan to come here, but our beautiful homelands were unsafe and were torn by the misfortunes of war. We are refugees. We deserve a safe place to lay our heads at night and to not sleep with fear that we may wake from a blast taking our lives, or in the custody of corrupt groups who view us as disposable slaves used for their sexual and psychological gratifications. We love our homes and wanted them to be safe places for us to stay, where we could grow old and watch our children and grandchildren enjoy life in the rich cultures of their inheritance. But we were sent here, after years in camps, waiting for a “slot” to open and to proved through reams of paperwork that we are worthy of humanity. We identify as citizens of our home countries or our tribes, but we were forced to become Americans, and we hope you accept us preserving our own cultures alongside your own.
No matter which one of these we are, we are all American. The beauty of this country – from sea to shining sea – is that were were built with the purpose of freedom in mind. Freedom is the spine of Lady Liberty, and she carries us on her back.
Our history is imperfect and carries stains that cannot be bleached out. Original colonists did not all treat the Natives with respect (much like endless tribes throughout history, all over the planet). Civil and human rights are still being argued over and defined, because we have not yet perfectly learned to love one another and be united.
I felt ill last night watching Hidden Figures. Though slavery in its literal form ended with the Civil War, over 100 years later our country was still struggling to treat all colors with dignity, as if we weren’t the ones who brought their ancestors here in the first place. History has been a constant intermingling of colors and cultures, but our folks have failed to recognize that out of fear and lack of understanding of the unknown. Power and desire for domination has always been a theme at every part of history, and we have been quick to forget the reason our ancestors came here. I remember looking at pictures of segregation in my social studies book in middle school. It never did make sense to me. There was a black girl in my first grade class – I think her name was Holly Campbell. She had to have been the only African-American in the Upper Peninsula, I thought. I sat with her on the bus every day. I remember kids saying she smelled like popcorn and was just different. I knew she and I were different, but I didn’t really understand why that was bad. Because it wasn’t. Different does not equal evil. Diversity is only wrong if one fears that it will diminish their own identity. Drinking out of a fountain that a “colored” person drank from will not give me a disease, will not make me black, nor will make me any other stereotype associated with the African-American culture. Drinking out of that fountain will make me not thirsty. And what a wonder that is.
To think we have yet to learn not to fear one another just boggles me. Yesterday, I walked by a U.S. Army soldier in the mall, donning his camo. Oh, how I have always secretly wanted to have served in our military! To serve this beautiful land that has allowed me life and liberty. While I’m sure military members have normal lives and think about things other than their service, I know that many suffer because of the service they have given. And when I walk by, I can’t help but know that most look around at all the diverse people they have fought to protect – not just whites, not just Christians, not just heterosexuals, not just males and females. They understand the world on a level on which most of us will never understand it. They have seen what the news outlets will never report on. They have interacted with the civilians of dangerous countries and know that the people aren’t dangerous, but just a few bad apples are. They don’t fight just for our country, but for our world. And that’s how it should be. We should all work together to uphold and to protect the well-being of one another, so we can live in peace in whichever land we were born into or choose. We fight for humanity. Lady Liberty holds her torch high at Liberty Island, and since 1886, she stood as a lighthouse and a beacon for our ancestors as they nervously disembarked at Ellis Island. She was a hope and a comfort. And if we take the time to ponder on her symbolism, she stands for the same today, for those who have crossed all of our borders, who have lost their lives en route, who have prayed for the chance to give something better to their children, and for those who will come in the future.
Every month in my Eastern Star meeting, I have the privilege of reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and singing the national anthem. I feel empowered when I participate in both. I image standing on the sidelines in Baltimore in 1812, watching the spectacular battle take place, and the poem as if it were being penned in that moment and not two years later. I see my flag waving above the distress below. She has always been a symbol to unite in every tragedy, and to me has always been a cry to those who seek to do harm that we will defend all from their corruption, that we will all unite, not just Americans. I argue that in a metaphorical sense, all who seek true and honest liberty are entitled to be called American, and all who seek to destroy others by the power of the fist, the sword, and the gun, are enemies to us, and we will not rest until all who suppress liberty suppress it no more.
O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hail’d at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight
O’er the ramparts we watch’d were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket’s red glare, the bomb bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there,
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream,
‘Tis the star-spangled banner – O long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
And where is that band who so vauntingly swore,
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
A home and a Country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
O thus be it ever when freemen shall stand
Between their lov’d home and the war’s desolation!
Blest with vict’ry and peace may the heav’n rescued land
Praise the power that hath made and preserv’d us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto – “In God is our trust,”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
This country is for all who desire freedom from oppression and who seek peace. If we just took a little time to go back to our roots of why we are here and what we stand for, we will see volumes of poetic prose and symbolism that represents the true heart of our nation. We need to unite. We must stop dividing ourselves from one another. We must support the cause of freedom for all. We are all linked, and if one country suffers, we all do. We must join Lady Liberty and support our troops in carrying the great burdens ahead. Not a handful can do it without growing tired. We must link arms and fight together to rejuvenate our nation to become what it has meant to stand for since the beginning of its infancy. We are all more connected than we realize – through history, through experiences, through DNA, through legacies. We need to look beyond our backyards and reach across the fence to our neighbors with an understanding that we will always look out for them and protect them. We need to become communities again so we can heal as a nation.
*I know that there is an entire conjoined corridor of countries along a larger North [including Central] and South American continent, but for ease of expression, and for expressing our citizenship the way it is often identified by European nationals and citizens of other foreign countries, I will occasionally use “American” as an identifier for citizens of the United States of America.