I’ve been away from the US for two years, making a brief return last year, too brief to actually feel like I was home. Being in the UK has afforded me so much, some gifts more unexpected than others. It was while I was away from the country of my birth, the United States of America, that I was able to feel and embrace the American identity. I have written several blog posts regarding my “Americano” identity while in the UK: on defending the US, finally feeling ‘American’, becoming Americano (part 1 and part 2), and an open letter to two white men who flipped my flag upside up in my own home.
But as the reality has begun to sink in, with my one way flight to New York booked, a familiar feeling, dissolution, and a creeping fear has begun to pierce the readiness of my mind. Many of my white American peers are also returning home, but unlike their homecoming, mine will be fundamentally different. While I can say with complete honesty that I am ready to return home, there is a question that is looming high, and as the day nears, I grow tense, as I already know the answer.
The second I step off that plane, grab my bag, and place my traveled feet on the soil with my Eagle emblazoned passport, I can already feel the question consume me, drying me of my hope. Will America love me? Will she give me a homecoming where I feel fully a child of hers? Or will she, as she has done since I was born, reject me, interrogate me, push me away, lock me up, wrap barbed wire around my legs, suffocate me, deny me of my wholeness? Will I be able to look at Lady Liberty and believe her words? Will I be American?
I have finally embraced my American identity in ways that may not have been possible if I had remained in the US. Yet, this acceptance is of one body, my own, amongst a sea of 321 million, many of which will see me step foot unto our land and never call me brother.
I love my country. I hate it too. These emotions are both real and valid. They co-exist. This ambivalence is one I have come to hold on to and grapple with, giving me breathe and ripping it away. But this is not a product of an abstraction, of a metaphorical America. This America is tangible, manifesting in its people and how they treat me. This America is a physical one.
I know I will return home and immediately the label of Latino/Hispanic will be super imposed with all its racist, racialized sexist, and colonial baggage. My legality will be in question, the lack of documents assumed, and all those tired questions will come back. ‘Where are you really from?’ I will be asked by the well meaning. And I know I will again here the words “spic, wetback, illegal alien”, thrown at me or those who look like me by those who would rather see me gone from the US.
While I may be treated, on the better days, as the adopted child, Americans, and to be specific, most White Americans, will be unable to see me as their kin, as their brother, as their fellow citizen (though even this does not encompass American-ess, as the undocumented have complete validation in claiming being American), but only as Other. What position I was able to enjoy in the UK, Europe, North Africa and Southern Africa, even with its limitations as race there too is ever present, will be mostly lost.
And so, White America, as our mother privileges you over me, and as it is through you to which her power stems, I ask, can you love me?
Pero, you know what? I care very little for your love. For what good is that love if I am, in your eyes, not human, not even subject, but only object? What Can I do with this love that would only be declared to silence me, to appease me, to then tell me later, “Why are you complaining? We said we love you.” If ever you wish me to believe you, you should not only speak… actually, perhaps it is not necessary (or desired) for you to speak, for your voice grows tiring anyways…but to do something else.
Do not ask me where I am really from.
Do not dismiss my critique of our country.
Do not only listen to my praise and love for our country.
Do not take my pride in being Latino, Argentine, and Salvadoran, as an affront to my pride in ‘America’.
Do not call my political viewpoints unpatriotic simply because they are anti-capitalistic and critical.
Do not ask me to only speak English.
Do not ask me to only speak a specific, stale, sterile, anglicized English.
Do not tell me to “go back to my country” for I am already in it.
Do not tell my Parents any of this, my Abuela, my sister, or anyone who self identifies as American.
America, White America, do not offer me your love, for as it exists now, it is incomplete, corrupted, blind, and veinless. Before you can love me, there is so much else you must do.
For now, start with believing me when I tell you,
I am Americano. I am home.