Note: This cannot be accurately called an essay, as it is too unpolished and not as make-sense-y as a real essay. And, it likely has typos. Sigh.
A long time ago in a school building far, far away… My class was asked to write an essay about Why I’m Proud to Be an American. Everyone except me wrote about different rights– freedom of speech, freedom of religion, life liberty and the pursuit of happiness. All that nice, neat, predictable stuff.
I, instead, wrote about a woman named Melkamayehou. She grew up in Ethiopia. Ever since she was a young girl she dreamed of becoming– No. She told everyone she was an American. She had never been to America or met an American. People scolded her and told her that she was not American, she was Ethiopian, but still she insisted. She used to cut pictures of Americans out of newspapers to keep. Eventually, she realized her dream of coming to America. When she first arrived, the person in charge of getting her settled asked Mel what state she would like to live in. Mel hadn’t considered it– she hadn’t realized that America was split up into separate states. So she asked the person to read her all the names of states, and that was how she would pick one. They read them alphabetically, and when they came to Ohio, Mel declared that Ohio was where she wanted to live.
Now, she loves her city. She loves her apartment, she loves the snow (which everyone else complains about). She loves America. She is– and always was– an American.
I suppose I could never explain how Mel’s story connects to my own, or how it explains my pride in being American. I suppose I could have done a better job at that for the school project. However that aspect was not what the teacher took issue with. She was upset because I did not mention my rights and freedoms. I tried to explain that rights and freedoms were not necessarily what made me feel any pride toward this country. It was something else, something deeper–
“You don’t appreciate your rights?”
“Then why don’t you move to Canada, huh? Move to Canada if you don’t care about your rights!”
Well, Canada certainly sounded inviting just then…
But back to what I was trying to say. Somehow, I wanted to express my pride in being American. This unnamed feeling, this connectedness almost, but not quite that. Perhaps it cannot even be called “pride”. It’s something else, more a contentedness, a feeling like you’re home. Rights and freedoms can’t make you home. But this American feeling, that makes me home.
It’s little-girl Mel calling herself an American.
America is more than a place where you can practice religion freely, or criticize who you want to, or live where you want to and grow up to be President. It’s not somewhere you are, it’s something you are.
America and I have a complicated relationship now that I’m older. I’ve come to realize that money drives the world and it’s made me a little more bitter than I once was. I’ve come to see the flaws in the fabric of our democracy, the fact that no, not just anyone who meets the requirements can run for President because they don’t have money and they didn’t go to Ivy league. I’ve come to terms with the fact that America is brimming with ignorance and plain idiocy. I’m tired of government and beaurocracy, tired of people fighting over stupid crap. So many things about the way we live now make me want to puke. Like… suburbs with “neighborhood councils” who can tell me how to keep my lawn and my house and what color garden gnome I can have, and no you cannot grow clover or hang laundry on the line or cultivate vegetables. Like… the sheer amount of waste, the loss of real communication, the loss of being able to flipping walk across the intersection by the library without practically being run over because Mr SUV just can’t wait for the green light. (Dude! It said “walk”! Not “Run in fear of your life, meaningless pedestrian!”)
But guess what? The fabulous, glorious, wonderful thing about America is that I can grow clover instead of grass despite the neighbors looking down their noses. I can continue to walk to the library and I can continue to walk at normal walking pace across the street despite the glares from impatient motorists. Despite all the people surrounding me who disagree, who discourage, I have never felt like I don’t have power of some kind. Ihave been raised in a country where I. Have. Power.
Sure, I don’t have money. Sure, I don’t have any far-reaching influence. Sure, I’m only 15 and the adultist world wants to blow me off. But I have the mindset of an American. This mindset that says I am independent. I’ll show you. I’ll cobble something together. I’ll make my own way. I’ll do what I want and what I believe in. I’ll fight this injustice. I’ll do what it takes. This is a country where small things matter. We have the right to live our lives even if others disagree with us. One person means something here. Even now, with corruption and greed running rampant everywhere, we still believe in the power of one. One nation, indivisible. One person, indivisble. Our country cannot separate from itself, nor can we separate from ourselves, our own dreams and beliefs. At the core of our country is something so dynamic and brave and free. This something has taken us on a wild journey, transforming us from colonists into fearless patriots, from all that we once were to all that we are becoming. This ride isn’t over yet, not by a long shot.
So many hardships. So many things that break my heart, things going on in this country I love.
But so many beautiful things.
So many things I hate about here.
So many things I love.
I’m an American. It means what I make it mean. It’s the reason I don’t have to go to school, don’t have to fit any mold, don’t have to be anything but what I am.
Oh say, does that star-spangled abnner yet wave/ O’er the Land of the Free, and the Home of the Brave…
Yeah, it’s still wavin’. And I hope it always will be.