America taught me how to hide. “Your name asks too much of people,” it said.
So, I cut it, shortened it, mangled it until I couldn’t recognize myself. And I hid behind this new “Americanized,” but really ostracized, way of saying such a holy word.
I hid in a carefully learned American accent, hid in intelligence so no one could doubt me, hid my garlic-scented clothes with fake floral perfume so no one would know that I didn’t eat meatloaf for dinner.
America taught me shame.
So, I shamed my family for the things they didn’t know, for the accent they carried deep in their throats, for the ways of life that they weren’t able to teach me, for not knowing how to assimilate into a culture that always critiqued things that were considered other.
Shame, hide, smile, shame, hide, don’t let it show, shame, hide, don’t lose your composure, shame, hide, they’ll know you don’t belong here if you’re not careful, shame, hide, smile.
I’ve been undoing this cycle for years now, grasping for whatever bits of myself I could salvage and building a whole woman with these fragments, gently weaving them together with truth, with pride, with love, and with hope that I now know. Because for all the ways America has taught me shame and taught me to hide, the people of America have taught me hope. That hope has filled in my gaps.
The hope that comes each morning when I awake and know that I have the honor to chase dreams that my ancestors only prayed for. To know that I can heal from patterns and theologies that were taught to me to oppress me, to keep me silent, shameful, hidden. To know that I have the right to unravel the ways in which God was taught to me and learn for myself who they are.
You see, when the American missionaries were converting my families all those decades ago, they conveniently left out how liberation and Jesus were one. They forgot to tell us about the ways in which this land was taken forcefully, how it enslaved millions, and how we still face those repercussions today. They left out the ways that out of this genocide and this disgraceful beginning, God managed to inspire civil rights leaders in their rebellions for freedom, for justice and grace. God managed to inspire people who fought for my own freedom, too, in their understanding wholly what it meant to be made in the image of their creator. That’s where the power is. They forgot to mention that hopeful power.
So, here I stand, on the jagged edge of shame and hope, pushing one away and bringing one near. Here I stand with a religion that doesn’t feel like my own, a country that mourns my loss, groans for my return, knowing that the heart strings it pulls, like puppet strings, were slashed decades ago, and a land they say is mine now, made for me, even; this land is your land this land is my land – isn’t that how the song goes? And somewhere between this land and the seas that stand between me and my motherland, I wonder if this is how it feels to be an immigrant: to hold the sorrow and the joy of ripping out roots and watch them be planted somewhere else, watered somewhere else, and grown somewhere else. Maybe this somewhere else is my home now. Maybe this is what it means to be American.