To me, America is home, the New World, from North (Canada) to South (Argentina/Chile/Galapagos) - we are all Americans. As the United States, well, it's my un/familiar homeland.
My ancestral lineage predates the American Colonial Era, and I'm sure all of my ancestors would consider my achievements a remarkable tale. As far as I know, my bloodline is African, Native American (Oglala Sioux and Choctaw) and Scottish/British. My multi-ethnicity aside, if were the days of Jim Crow, I'd be "colored" without question.
Regarding the mythical American Dream, no pleasant dream exists without some presence of a nightmare. The painfulness of hatred and bias remind me I am not living in a utopia - now or ever. Hatred and fear continue to keep us divided; conveniently, there is always another group to blame for the majority population's misery: the obese, the poor, the women, the il/legal immigrants, the Muslims, the (insert racial/ethnic group here), the gays - the list can go on. The pronouns "they" and "them" are quickly enunciated when people voice their dissatisfaction with, dehumanization of, and prejudice against groups of people they believe to be quite unlike (i.e. lower than) themselves.
Having been to other nations, I recognize how fortunate I am to be in the USA. We have many opportunities that couldn't be imagined elsewhere. Yes, this is part of the national rhetoric. However, I'm also aware that we, as a nation, benefit from the misfortune of other nations. Commerce and capital are the foundation of this nation, and there are hard feelings to be had against the United States from nearly every corner of the globe. I'm also aware of the significant struggles and sacrifices my ancestors made while enduring European imperialist oppression and trying to overcome these obstacles.
I am often a pessimist and cynic, so pardon my lack of optimism. What unites the USA is American English, some borders and legal documents. We are the DISUNITED States and will continue to be as such. I seriously doubt that someone in teeny tiny small town USA can relate to me, a NYC native, or even want to see me as a person. Hate crimes are real. Prejudice is real. Fear is all too real. My perspective is different. My experiences are different.
What we may both want is something people from other nations want, too. Just about everyone I know - and that's a decent amount of people - wants good health, security and some financial stability. We live, we love and we laugh. We smile, we cry and we move on.
The political rhetoric makes it more divisive, and the popular culture keeps people distracted from the work at hand that must be done. As long as people are trying to follow (insert celebrity here) on a social network, watch "reality" TV and get caught in throes of consumerism, they will have minimal time to do any bit of real housekeeping.
Can the United States ever form a more perfect union? Hmm. I know it can, but will it? The phrase "more perfect" is too vague. More perfect for whom? If that means to create a utopia similar to something on a children's TV program (Clifford, Arthur, or Sesame Street, etc.) then I doubt it. Those programs where everyone has food, shelter and love - that's not the real world we live in. Will it mean a dystopia? Well, perhaps.
We can try to pass more laws to give everyone a better chance at achieving, but as long as there's power to be had, the rules will always benefit those who wish to keep their power.
The struggle continues.
Shamika Ann Mitchell is an Assistant Professor of English at Rockland Community College, State University of New York. She is a native of New York City.
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