The United States of America is an invention built and kept running at the expense of the freedom of others. It’s an ugly but a real thought and one that could probably be said of most nations. Nations, the borders that contain them and the laws that maintain them and decide who should be in and who should stay out of them, are human creations and every creation has a cost. For me, the specific problem is that the existence of this creation, its development and growth is directly tied to the land of my ancestors not being free.
If the United States of America and I had to have a Facebook status it would be “it’s complicated” because colonialism is complicated. Imperialism is complicated and my being a citizen of the United States of America is a direct result of that complicated and unresolved relationship that began on July 25th, 1898. To add to the complication, this relationship is non-consensual, happened though an act of war and there are multiple parties involved. There are other individuals, groups, identities, and nations forced into survival while paying with land, languages, culture, traditions, and bodies.
The July 2nd issue of TIME magazine’s cover story is titled “The History of the American Dream,” by Jon Meacham. This biography makes passing reference to the subjugation of Native peoples and slavery but centers itself around the idea that the American Dream does exist, is real and valid and is always a shifting contradiction. As someone who was born and lives within and because of the borders of the contradiction, celebrating the independence of the United States is something I cannot wrap my head or heart around.
Moving past the USA-centrism that is inherent in defining “America” as just the US of A, my citizenship, with me since my birth in Queens, NYC 35 years ago is a heavy burden. Just the other day, sitting on the lawn outside of Wayne State University in Detroit, I was discussing how Puerto Ricans don’t need a passport to travel between our island and any of the fifty states but how if we decide to be residents on the island once called Boriken, we have no right to vote for a U.S. President whose policies we must follow (i.e. Secure Communities which is active on Puerto Rico and probably used to discriminate against a growing Dominican immigrant population). Residing within one of the 50 states however, as my mother has since she was 8 years old, means a Puerto Rican can vote for president and have a Congressional Representative that actually matters (ok that point may be arguable). And yet, ever since I could vote, I have. As per my mentor Richie Perez (QEPD), it’s a weapon in our toolbox, to be used cautiously and in conjunction with other tools like protests. It’s a weapon hard fought for by many and that fact needs to be respected but acknowledged in terms of limitations and restrictions (immigrants, colonies, prisoners, etc.)
When I express my complicated relationship status with the United States, I am often told to leave. Go back where I came from, although it is unclear where that would be. Flushing? Puerto Rico? My mom’s uterus? I’ve been told to go to Cuba. Go to Mexico. Go anywhere but here where I was born and raised, pledging allegiance to the United States flag until high school, when I decided I couldn’t and wouldn’t do any more . I opt to sing the original Borinquena instead, which I have always have sung to my kids as a sort of a lullaby. A decolonized Puerto Rico feels like a dream I keep alive for my kids (who are also half Chilean and one is half Mapuche which is a whole other post/story/colonial relationship).
That dream of self-determination is different from the “American dream” so many celebrate today. It’s an invention still in the planning stages, still being drawn up, still being perfected and still yet to be made real. In the meantime, this space is a limbo, a borderland that yes has given me so much but that has also taken so much. Celebrating doesn’t seem appropriate. Reflecting and working out in my head and heart how to exist beyond borders, in spite of nationalities, and through contorted definitions of patriotism, that seems to make a lot more sense.
I hope all had a safe day.