You’d think I’d have a stock answer by now. It is a pretty straightforward question, and people ask it all the time. It is a standard of small talk, in fact. But, every time I hear it, I struggle, trying to figure out an answer that is truthful without being way too much information.
“Where are you from?”
It is a very good question. I’ll get back to you when I have an answer. I grew up in Massachusetts, except for when I didn’t live there. I lived in Philadelphia longer than Washington, D.C., Chapel Hill, or Charlottesville, but I haven’t lived in any of those places in years, and none of my stints were that long. We have moved during all three of my pregnancies, and two of those have been international moves. My latest domicile was London, but I think we can safely say I am not from there.
Nowadays, here in Los Angeles, I sort of stutter and respond, “The East Coast.” It’s vague, but it gets the job done.
I long for a place of permanency, but I may never get one. I wish for geographic rootedness, but it may never happen. I will probably go a long time before I develop a place-based identity.
The best I can say is that I am an American. And, although it is fashionable to be self-denigrating about that fact, I am not. I am proud to be American.
Yes, Americans use too many resources, and there are plenty of Americans who care nothing for the environmental flotsam they leave in their wake. But I am proud to be among the others, the ones who are working to clean up our act. The recyclers, the bikers, the pedestrians, the non-drier-clothes-hangers, the open-windows-instead-of-air-conditioners, the vegetarians, the Freecyclers. I am not all of those things (anyone want to guess which ones?), but I am proud to be an American alongside them and to strive to be better.
Yes, Americans were responsible for Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, and Americans will be responsible for more such atrocities as long as there are people who see our strength as a license to behave however we want. But, there are other Americans working to reveal the abuses and prevent their reoccurrence. I wish I were as good an American as they are.
Yes, there are Americans who discriminate against homosexuals, who hate people because of their skin color, and who preach the word of God while living a life that would have made their Savior weep. But there are others who stand up to them, who fight for the rights of people they do not know, who live lives of service and humility. I hope to find a way to live a life like theirs.
And, so, this Fourth of July, I will not be hiding. I will be proudly wearing my favorite Fourth t-shirt, the one that says “Celebrate Freedom: Read a Banned Book.” I will be spending time with my children, working to raise them to be the kinds of Americans I so admire.
I am an American in the tradition of Jack Kerouac or Gertrude Stein. I am on the road, I am shuffled from one place to another. But, I look at my shelf of books, at Henry James, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Octavia Butler, and all my other loves. And I am proud to celebrate that part of my nationality, even as I know how much work we all have left to do every single day.
Some Americans disgust me, but others? They rock my world.