To what country do I owe my national pride?
My first experience around many people of international origin was during my college days in Miami, Florida. If you’re unfamiliar, Miami is a melting pot of people from many Latin American and Caribbean countries. Calle Ocho Festival (an annual block party held in March) was my first experience seeing flags of different nations flying high.
People, although they’d expatriated themselves to the United States, swelled with national pride from their home countries.
And who was I? An ethnic American? How boring. What reason did I have to be proud of my American heritage? Protecting freedom? What a load of baloney.
My heritage beyond a handful of generations is unknown because of the legacy of slavery in this country. The majority of my DNA is African. I have a little Native American here and there—definitely not pin-pointable to a specific tribe because written family records are spotty at best…But I believe what my family says. And the rest of my DNA is white, from the individuals who forced themselves into my lineage.
At these grand outpourings of international, national pride, I didn’t want people to know that I was American. I wasn’t white, so I had to be from somewhere else. How disappointing it was to tell people about my American heritage.
What was my American heritage to me? According to the “founding founders” of this country, the United States didn’t belong to us. Unlike those in the Caribbean who live in majority-black nations, who overthrew their imperialistic rule, we were just unwanted guests in a country that was never intended for us to be citizens.
I share my national heritage with the descendants of my ancestors’ enslavers.
Before Miami, the only national pride I’d heard or seen was Mexican, but rarely a flag hanging from a rearview mirror. And then, white people around me claimed their Italian, Scottish and Irish heritage. But they were still American. Only third or fourth generation immigrants, they felt American in their bones.
I’ve never felt American. I’ve never had any desire to wear the United States Flag. Cheering on the Olympics is met with mixed emotions. I will never shout “Go America!” but root for individuals instead.
Fifteen years ago, I would have scoffed if you told me that being Black in America was my cultural/national identity. Much to my dismay, I believed I was an imposter of an “ordinary” American.
What I didn’t know then, was that black Americans created everything cool about America. We literally built this country—our ancestors’ blood, sweat, and tears are in the physical fabric of this nation—in the soil. What’s more, the architecture, ideals, symbols, city/state names of this country were stolen and appropriated from the Indigenous peoples of this land and my African ancestors. Our Ancestors. Our ideas and culture are being stolen and appropriated as we speak.
But how could I feel connected to a land under a massive rebranding effort?
I now live in Arkansas. A place that extols “American” values. The real America. If you want to know how America really is, forget the fancy east coast cities and come to Arkansas. The only thing that’s keeping me from feeling negative about this place is imagining how the peoples who lived here before colonialism enjoyed the land. They enjoyed the rivers, the beautiful hilly landscape. The nearby mountains. The valleys. This place was fertile ground.
South Carolina, when we lived there, asked for me to reclaim it. I could feel my ancestors’ presence there. Even though it currently isn’t my favorite state in the union (and also very “American”), my family has a known history there.
It was hard to feel connected to the Black community when we were fractured into pieces and yet, we expected ourselves to be a monolith—when we accepted stereotypes about ourselves. When I didn’t fit many of those stereotypes, how could I feel like I belonged?
In 2020 we are waking up and accepting diversity within our community. But 10 years ago or even 15 years ago when I was a teenager, it didn’t feel that way.
I may have the E. Pluribus Unum eagle on my passport, but it’s not tattooed on my soul.
We are our own culture. We have our own flag. We have a shared history and heritage. We are our own tribe within a nation. The question is, where do we belong?