This is an edited and reposted version of a piece I wrote about my feelings regarding my place in United States as a first generation Dominican on the Fourth of July three years ago.
I was four years old when I first took down the small American flag my parents had up in a small clay pot from their home country and replaced it with my preferred flags from Canada and the Dominican Republic. My mom laughed but reversed my interior designing decision nonetheless. When I asked her why, she said “Because it isn’t polite to wave flags from other countries, we are Americans.” “But I don’t LIKE America.” I grumbled. I would go on to stubbornly repeat this aesthetic executive decision a few more times.
I was 5 years old when I once silently refused to say the pledge of allegiance. The stoic, pale, impending faces of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington looming over me and my kindergarten class as we took part in the typical patriotic morning ritual, their eyes stern and all-knowing, like fathers watching their children. Now, my decision was not so outspoken or political. I merely realized then I was the wrong shade to be a daughter of their revolution, though I could tend her crops. “This isn’t my country or my history”, I thought to myself, sadly, first having that feeling of exclusion.
I was 7 years old when I was threatened to be shot in gym class by a mouthy, sandy haired white girl with a Little Rascals’ hair cut. It started off as a hypothetical, maybe a joke, but near the end I felt sick and scared as she calmly explained how her brother had a gun, how easily she could get it and what she’d do to me with it. It didn’t help that she’d spent so much time calling me names for being darker-skinned, for having big hair and dark eyes. “Witch, witch.” My parents pulled from school until she was suspended. When I returned, I felt like I had been the one to have done something wrong.
I was 9 years old when my new friend Stephanie’s older brother Bryan brought me to the outside of their apartment complex, pointed up to the confederate flag hanging from his window and sneered “Do you know what that means?” “No” I answered truthfully, my childish naivety unwittingly sparing me. I now know that he had meant to intimidate me. Years later, he did.
I was 11 years old when I watched as my father got into a bad altercation with our downstairs neighbor, a skinny tall white man with a thick white and pepper mustache, chin-length dingy dishwater grey hair, and a baseball cap. He looked down at my father and spat “Go back to fuckin’ Pakistan, you terrorist.” My father’s eyes got wide and pitch with unadulterated rage, and though he had the volatile nature and strength to, he did nothing. In that moment I realized that no matter how hard someone like him, like us, worked, how perfect our English was and impeccable our criminal record, we would always just be “Fuckin’ terrorists,” or “wetbacks” and “niggers” if they actually got their racial insults right. I went into the closet and cried at my lot, the animal branding put on me.
I was 15 years old when I went to my first anti-war protest behind my parents’ back. My friend dropped me off on the East Beltline where it was happening. Typically afraid and anxiety-ridden at first, eventually I got right in line and I screamed, chanted and marched with my sign held high along with everyone else, something completely out of my nature. I felt invigorated and alive in that moment, for the first time this was something I truly believed in and was convicted of and wasn’t sorry for, nor was I afraid to let it be known. People yelled insults out of their cars and the various media outlets and college students who interviewed protesters treated us condescendingly, but that didn’t deter me or change anything. I would never be the same again.
I was 16 when an enlisted Marine friend of mine and I fought on Myspace about my “increasingly liberal beliefs.” He hurled insult after insult, calling me a “whiny emo kid” and a bitch, tearing me apart me for my burgeoning radicalism-my distancing from our church, my queer activism in high school, and the point of most contention, my outspoken anti-war sentiments. “IT’S PEOPLE LIKE ME WHO FIGHT ASSHOLES IN THIRD WORLD COUNTRIES AND KEEP THEM FROM RAPING YOU”. Paternalistic manifest destiny benevolence at its finest.
I was 21 years old when I went to the Socialism Conference in Chicago over 4th of July weekend and watched in utter disbelief and horror as a white Jewish woman and a non-Black Egyptian man took turns reading aloud segments of Frederick Douglass’ powerful Fourth of July Speech he gave in my hometown of Rochester, New York 1852 in a whitewashed, misconstrued, hollow interpretation of his racialized, anti-slavery open letter, a staple of radical Black history, to a room full of white socialists and leftists, a group of people who had no qualms watching an “Opium Den” yellowface drag show done by a white queer the night before and who donned Native iconography and Keffiyeh all weekend long while hearing speaker after speaker, discussion after discussion co-opt, trash, dismiss and explain away the realities of white supremacy in America. Everything is about class, after all, and talking about race is “divisive,” which is white for “since it doesn’t include or center me I don’t like it.” They put their fists up and I wanted to put my fists in their faces.
Now I’m 23. No less Afro-Latina and generally unwanted by American values and ideals as I was at 4, but way less sorry about the former and shed no tears about the latter. I sing no jingoist anthems, rather I tell the hard tale of American dreams deferred and smashed apart, people torn from their identities and left with no history, no present, no future. But I keep my voice, my candor, my face, my rage, my fight. I still don’t like America, but only because America didn’t like me first.