Although I was born in India, I have always had an American passport. And while I knew I was American, we didn't live in the US until I was 10. So I had no idea what being American meant.
I still don't, actually. America is so vast, and so vastly different depending on where you live and who you are. I don't know if there's a way to sum up being American.
What's America to you?
To me as a child who would visit grandparents in North Dakota and Minnesota, and sometimes an uncle in Texas, besides family, America mainly meant:
- Running around barefoot outside, because you didn't have to worry about hookworm.
- Ice cream! In fact, dairy products from any old source, because they were all pasteurized.
- Drinking water out of the tap. No boiling.
- Fireworks and sparklers (which I still find magical).
- Television. Had we ever seen anything so amazing as Captain Kangeroo? Or Saturday morning cartoons?
- Birthday! I'm an August baby, and one year I had three birthday parties - including three cakes - because we were in three different cities right around my birthday.
(Whereas when one of my parents' American friends asked me what I thought of Bangladesh after we'd been there a year I said, "Good. But it's weird to see dead people on the side of the road sometimes." When I asked my mom about it she said, "Oh. I didn't think you saw them.")
Right before I started college, my family moved back to the US from India. I headed down to North Carolina, and I will tell you that if my family had been anywhere but in the US, I'd have packed up and headed "home" - wherever that might have been.
In college, to me America meant:
- An acute awareness of race. We are white and they are black. Did you really go on a date with him? Oh, wow! Because, you know, he's...well, he's black. (In fact, I did. And he's still one of the best looking guys I've ever gone out with.)
- A lack of awareness and interest in the rest of the world. If you were from Charlotte, you came to school with so many of your Charlotte Country Day friends, and India? Did you mean Indiana?
- Sameness. So much sameness. No interest in differentness. Yes, I know it's not a word.
- Jingoism. America is the best and really only and everyone else should do what we want.
But for the most part I hated college, and I hated living in America.
In the George W. Bush years, I was so embarrassed whenever I traveled to other countries. I made it clear, once people knew I was American, that I wasn't that kind of American. That I was as horrified as they that he was president.
And now, I'm still not that kind of American. I'm not jingoistic. I am enraged by the gun lobby. By those who would control my uterus. By those who fight against gay marriage.
Just as I have a fear list, I have a rage list. It goes on.
But! As an adult, as a woman, as a mother, I feel very lucky to be American.
It's a safe, stable, beautiful country. We have it good here.
There are so many services that we take for granted. Of course we have potable water. We have a fit when we have to boil the water in our community because of a water main breach. We expect government to work. We get angry when our Internet isn't fast enough, or when cable isn't working.
I know DC is a vary particular place in the US, and I love it. I love where we live, and I know that we have lives here that we couldn't have in many other places on the planet. I love how diverse our community is.
Jordan's classroom had kids from a wide variety of cultures and economic circumstances. Our fourth of July celebration today includes people from Spain, Mexico, and India. When we have parties, people have interesting things to talk about, and there are usually at least two languages being spoken.
People have come here from incredibly different circumstances and built a life and settled in here. I know this is easier to do in American than in so many other places.
I don't know if I'm doing a good job of conveying what I'm thinking. Maybe it's because I'm not quite sure what I think.
America for me is so complicated, and as mentioned, there are a number of things that downright enrage me, that I think are unfair, that would incite me to violence if I had a penchant for it.
But there are a hell of a lot of positives, and they far outweigh the negatives.
I believe that for the most part, people are good, and Americans believe in equality and fairness, and are willing to work towards those things.