I remember wanting to be an American citizen with every fiber of my being. I remember it being the strongest part of my identity. I remember when America turned terrifying, or maybe when I finally realized that it was terrifying and uninviting and that it didn’t want me here. I remember realizing that the only reason my family had managed to immigrate was that we were “model minorities” – ones who wouldn’t make a fuss about being paid less, or treated worse, because we were just so happy to be in the United States. I remember feeling tricked, that even with all my mother’s doctorate degrees, she still wasn’t welcome in the country that had promised entry to those deserving, and even worse, had boasted that all were deserving.
I remember being good enough to work here, to pay taxes here, to find friends and love and grow up here, but never good enough to become a citizen. I remember thinking that change would happen, rapidly and all at once, because I was young and not yet a government major. I remember the freedom of ignorance, of not knowing the seedy underbelly of the political system or of the systemic racism or class divisions. I remember being told I was no longer “safe” or allowed in the country, because one of its citizens tried to do me physical harm. I remember turning and running away – no, kicked away – in shame, because I had tried to stand up to injustice, because isn’t that what you’re taught as a child growing up in America?
I remember never understanding that I was different, that my face was different or that my eyes or skin were just off enough or that I wasn’t the right kind of white.
But I remember being hopeful. I remember thinking that if even if I didn’t make a difference as an individual, perhaps I could with others. Brick by crumbling brick, my view of this country fell. Thread by thread, I unraveled with it.
But then again, how can you live on the city upon a hill without feeling hope?
I felt that when Obama took office once, and I felt it – albeit, a dull aching fashion – a second time. And it’s true: I don’t feel hope anymore, not in the traditional sense. But I feel hopeful in that I feel defiance.
People kill to get here, and I’m scrambling my way to leave. And that’s not who I am, and that’s not what this country is. Perhaps if just one less person feels like me at my lowest, then that will have been enough to have made my time in America worth it. If not, I’ll keep going, to find a way to recapture that feeling – for I, like this country, am unfinished.