Originally published at Medium, Feb 2020, as a #BIPOC #personalessay #flashmemoir.
(Photo of my mother and son, taken by me, 1997)
When I think about #America, I think of the multi-millions of #Indigenous peoples who were killed, who were raped, who had their children ripped from their arms or who died from diseases deliberately introduced. I think of the #AfricanPeoples torn from their lands, their cultures, their professions and histories, drowning in the ocean, suffocating in a press of bodies, beaten bloody beneath a burning sun, being sold and treated worse than animals. These are my ancestors.
When I think about America, I think of the incoming immigrants, the settlers, the European peoples who were abused, misused, demeaned and struggling in their own homelands, who heard the promise of land and a better life and came. Away from structural oppression and violent conversion that created desperate, vicious souls willing to do anything for wealth and power. I think of the Europeans who incorporated and founded an institution that decided what type of life and which lives were worthy and good, and which others were not. They recreated the systems and structures of elitism, oppression and bigotry they had fled. Too many of their descendants now support viciously defended created borders. They support policies and practices of sanctioned abuse and human rights violations, gleefully observing 21st century Indigenous suffering, using terms like “illegal”, when they too are illegal. Many of them are also unwanted immigrants and “anchor babies” on stolen ground.
When I think about America, I think of my mother at four years old trying to clean up a pool of blood on a wooden floor, from where her mother had cut her father’s throat, but the blood is seeping between the cracks. I think of one of her brothers, twenty years later dying from an accident due to untreated epilepsy. I think of another brother another decade later laying on a roadside with a broken skull while police laughed, never having checked to see he was still alive. I think of how his brain damage makes him confused when he sees me now, as he can only recall me as a child, and his own children who are all younger than me, not at all. I think of their youngest brother dying a few days after being diagnosed with lung cancer, having been turned away repeatedly from the emergency room even when complaining of chest pains. When I think of America, I remember my mother’s scream when she finally saw him lying in his casket, the baby she had cared for since she was fourteen years old, after their mother died soon after giving birth and their father abandoned them. To me, her cry was the sound of America.
When I think about America, I think of those who dismiss such stories as a domestic issue or “what those people do”, when centuries of targeted displacement, enslavement, and debasement destroyed Indigenous structures, cultures, and families so colonizers could achieve and continue the lie of the “American Dream”. When I think of America, it is not the conflated and inflated image, the scam of “the greatest country in the world”, it’s the place where most minoritized people and groups are emotionally, psychologically and physically starving and dying in the middle of abundance. Many of them continue to explode and prey on those closest, on those in their own communities, instead of burning down the systems profiting from and relying on their trauma.
When I think of America, it’s of how the sacrifices and deaths of Europeans are still romanticized and immortalized on all levels of society and taught in every school, while the lives, communities and accomplishments of brown and black peoples, of Indigenous peoples have mostly been erased. Their erasure has been normalized as “progress” and/or combined with the attempted homogenization of experience, with “We’re all immigrants!” rhetoric. I think of why it is so many cannot or refuse to understand how affective, damaging and harmful this continues to be, feeding the cycle of violence, inequality, and inequity, a trillion-dollar industry that loves historical amnesia and mendacity.
When I think of America, it’s the centuries of attempted justification of genocide and slavery broadcast with a cheerleader voice: “Get over it!”, and people who want to believe they are right or that “We’re all one people now”. I see the belief that any problem you have is your own, that you just didn’t work hard enough…but I also still sometimes see the spirit that once had place in every child’s heart, that instinctively moves them to help anyone in distress and suffering. I see people those who want to help and want to love and be loved, but they never learned how, or they were only taught who you must hate.
When I think of America, it’s all the beautiful land, the deserts, the mountains, the thousands of miles of coastline and beaches, the deep old forests and valleys, the waterways, lakes, rivers and underground springs. Yet they continue under threat and assault by the same demographic who categorizes human beings based on biological determinism, and decide who should receive respect, health care, citizenship or another breath. When I see America, I still see so many good, beautiful people of all backgrounds, origins and ethnicities vainly hoping for better from systems benefiting from and relying on division, hate and hopelessness.
When I think about America, the name itself is the first example of Eurocentricity and erasure, of patriarchy and white supremacy, which everyone, whether they admit it or not, has been wounded by and are struggling to survive. Survival mode of the white young male filled with cultivated hate watching weekend crowds or his alter ego who also has a gun, but instead contemplates suicide. Survival mode for the mother of color trying to shield and raise her children in a society where the color of your skin can still be a death sentence at any time, but society would prefer you alive yet working for free in prison. Survival mode for the Indigenous person on their Indigenous land being yelled at by a white person mistaken about their ethnicity, “Go back to your country!”
When I think about America, I want to give every single person a long, true embrace they have never been allowed to accept or trust, because they need to let all their pain, confusion and feelings of betrayal out so they can finally begin to heal. Some of the best and the brightest, the most courageous have been destroyed and are being destroyed by “America”.
When I think about “America” as all these things, I know that despite the scars, my scars, our scars, the hate America unsubtly fosters will not succeed, and has no chance because of us, the People. I think of the Indigenous who have not forgotten, and the Originals who are beginning to remember. No matter the background, the ethnicity, the gender, the sexuality, the physical or cognitive reality, we, the determined, the fighters, the warriors, the mothers, the daughters, the human beings who do not believe in and will not be defeated by the invention that is America, we will not be stopped.
We will survive and succeed despite America.