Yet, my becoming Americano isn’t a journey that is solely positive. Becoming Americano has come with, and still comes with, relentless pain, a pain that I must contend with as a Latino, as a child of immigrants, as someone who has experienced poverty, and as someone who is often times invisible. Yes, I have come to obtain positions of privilege, as I am now a person who holds 2 degrees and now working on a third. I have come to benefit as an inhabitant of the first world at the expense of those in the third. Even so, this breaking from the cocoon, rather early, has presented a truth too many never acknowledge.
There is a US flag hanging in my living room. The flag is upside down.
For those who do not know, and who may be offended, calm. A flag upside down is the international symbol for a country that is ‘in distress’ or “emergency”, where life is in immediate danger. It is not sign of ill will, disrespect, or hate. It is, however, also a symbol of protest, of anger, sorrow, of re-appropiration, and redefinition.
My country (it is, indeed, my country, and I always feel the need to repeat this fact) is in distress. From the continued disenfranchisement of the indigenous peoples of the Americas to the continued killing of Black youth to mass incarcerations, mass deportations, mass poverty (of land, education, health, and soul), and the historical eradication of our collective (true) histories, the US is no stranger to what I (and many) see as evils. Extreme? Not if we look at the evidence. From the inception of our country we have experienced slavery, the denial of rights to marginalized groups, invaded nations (Indigenous North America, Mexico, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Vietnam, Iraq….), and done so much more. Newtown. Ferguson. The Border. Our militarized police. Our willful denial of racism, sexism, classism. Drone Warfare. Mass Surveillance. Our political system. Our refusal to grant rights to migrants, the LGBTQ community, prisoners, children, the poor, the homeless – I can go on. These are not points of debate. The lives of so many, especially the lives of black youth, transsexuals, and the homeless, are forever in peril. Everyday, they are needlessly killed and their deaths receive no songs of remembrance. These are facts. These are truths. And as painful they may be, we must accept them.
Our sins of the past have not been addressed, and those of the present are seen as non-existent or necessary. Yes, we have made progress, but our successes are minuscule when we make seen our injustices.
This is why I will display my flag upside down, probably for the rest of my life, though my hope is that I can one day change that. Our country is in distress. We can save it. But there are two things that many Americans have to acknowledge.
The first is to accept this reality.
The second is to accept me as your fellow Americano. Because too many still see me as an outsider. Too many do not think I have the right to wave my flag as I see fit.
And too many hear the cries of their brothers and sisters, but refuse to listen.
This isn’t only about making my fellow citizens see our nation as it is. It is about making them see me as part of it.