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“Dedicated to Maria Elena Ramirez and Sojourner Truth”

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All of my life, I’ve been told, “You speak good English” or asked, “What country are you from?” Sometimes I think, “Not again, with the questions.”

In fancy neighborhoods, sometimes security guards follow me in stores or search my bags before I leave.

I want to tell them, “My ancestors worked hard to build the railroads here, back in the 1800’s.” And ain’t I an American?

My Asian American family has lived in the USA for generations. I’m no foreigner. I’m an AMERICAN.

Listen…my speech has no Asian accent. On the phone, some folks think I’m white, like them. When I show up at their office for the first time, they look behind me, searching for some invisible, white woman. It’s a trip.

And ain’t I an American? REAL Americans come in all colors.

But Asian Americans are invisible here. We are perpetual foreigners in our birthland, trying to stay afloat in a sea of ignorance. We answer questions all of our lives like, “What country are you REALLY from?”

Hey, I grew up with Santana, Clapton, Motown and the Jeffersons. And like you, my family has always celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Some say my family has been here longer than theirs — yet our children are still called ‘Chink’ or ‘Jap’ in American school yards or told to “Go back to China (or Japan).” Latinos or Mexican Americans are told to go back to Mexico. African Americans are told to go back to Africa. Muslim Americans are told to go back home. But this IS our home.

I was born in the USA. But as a kid, I was asked in a new school, if I knew the Pledge of Allegiance. This question politicized me. And ain’t I an AMERICAN?

We belong here. There ain’t no place for us to go back to. This is it! America is home. We are Americans, just like you. We all were immigrants once (except for the Natives).

And ain’t I an American? Read a history book. My ancestors panned for gold and helped to build the Transcontinental Railroad — blasting dynamite through huge, granite mountains. Dying in droves here. Others were run out of town, once the jobs dried up.

We need some of you to get it. Now…  And we’re waiting for the day when you’ll look at us and see us as REAL Americans, not as foreigners. We’ve been waiting for generations.

And ain’t I an American? Don’t make me break out my southern drawl, y’all.

© 2012, Risha. All rights reserved.

Risha (2 Posts)


12 Comments

  1. Risha, this is achingly sad in some ways but it also issues a challenge to us all. Beautifully done!

    • Risha

      Thanks, Cher, for your nice comments. I enjoyed writing this prose poem. Sometimes the process can be like listening to a blues musician.

      • “like listening to a blues musician,” is such an apt description, Risha.

        • Risha

          Yes, the two experiences feel very much the same to me, at times. The arts can be so healing and transformative.

  2. “I was born in the USA. But as a kid, I was asked in a new school, if I knew the Pledge of Allegiance.”

    Risha,

    I would ask of those who asked you this question, “Do they know the Pledge of Allegiance?” “One nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all [under God if you are so inclined].”

    Do they know the Fourteenth Amendment – “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”

    The American Flag’s colors are red, white, and blue, but We, the American people, come in a multitude of shades from the palest of the pale to the darkest of the dark.

    I loved this piece and your homage to the heroic activists Maria E. Ramirez and Sojourner Truth. If you ain’t an American, who is?

    Larry Conley

    • Risha

      Thanks, Larry, for your comments. Yes, exactly. I am supportive of groups that work to preserve the Bill of Rights and the Constitution.

      Maria E. Ramirez wrote her poem (with the same title), as a take off of Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman.” My prose poem was a “Take 2″ — and I dedicated it to both of them.

  3. You are so American it ain’t even funny. To me anyway. I was lucky enough to have grown up in a particulary diverse part of New York City where white (anglo, jewish, irish, italian, east european), black, latin (puerto rican, dominican, cuban), and asian (chinese mainly) all coexisted together it this wonderful stew of diversity. It was almost like having the whole world in one little area.

    And I loved it and it’s done me well.

    I’ve lived in different parts of the country and now live in Virginia. When I first moved here it was a bit of culture shock in that it’s so NOT diverse the way I’ve always been used to. Being of Italian heritage, plus my yankee “vibe” often gets me questions about where I’m from etc, and some have looked at me differently.

    Next time I get a raised eyebrow I’m just gonna ask “Ain’t I American?” :) Great first post and WELCOME to Expats. I’m looking forward to reading more of you Risha!

    Pete

    • Risha

      Thanks, Pete! Yes, I enjoy being in diverse areas too. I have always tried to keep an open mind and heart to others. It is what helps communities to flourish – everywhere.

  4. Judy Zalazar Drummond

    Risha – welcome to our circle. I have known Maria Elena over 40 years – one of my first comadres – and am so proud of her incredible work. To see you take it and retain the essence, yet make it your own, is just awesome. And exactly what we have fought for all our lives. Wouldn’t it be great to collect a bunch of these and publish them? I’m thinking of my own as a Native. Welcome.

  5. Risha

    Thank you for your kind comments and the warm welcome. Maria Elena’s poem was wonderful and it greatly inspired me to write my prose poem.

    Yes, a collection of poems sounds fantastic. I will be in touch via email. The idea for an anthology is exciting! Many blessings.

  6. Risha,

    I ran across this posting at just the right time, and can 100% sympathize with your expressed sentiments. I’m often trying to figure out how a country full of immigrants becomes so nationalistic to the point that one immigrant group points to another and judges their degree of “American”. As an American who is black (although my “heritage” includes Irish, English, Native American, and African), I’m blown away each time I see this question thrown at anyone. Most recently, John Sununu accused our current President of not being American at a time when many people ridiculously question the same. The ignorance is sometimes astounding. In either case, my co-host and I will be covering this on our podcast in our next episode released Monday, Jul 30th. If you don’t mind, I’m posting a link to your blog on our facebook.com/offthespectrumradio page. Thanks for your insights!….and definitely do the anthology!

  7. Anya

    Ha! I can totally, totally relate, especially as the first person in my family to be born Stateside, and moving around all over the country half my childhood. Whenever people ask me what my nationality is, even when I know they mean ethnicity, I always say, ‘American!’

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