A woman draped in an American flag by Josh Johnson from Unsplash.com

To Be American Enough

As I live to indulge in my pleasures, I find myself watching people doing what they love. That means watching series on Netflix about street food. I have watched all of the older versions and recently saw the American Street Food series. Yay!

Settling into the second episode (and I will probably watch the whole thing today), I find myself stuck on the owner of Mama Dút explain how during her childhood, she tried desperately to prove her Americanness. It reminded me of my mom taking African dance lessons when I was a child. She asked me if I would take the lessons when I was older. “Ew, no way.” The words of a little black girl in a very white world. I was in school with mostly white kids for much of my life and like so many other ethnic minorities in a mostly white setting, I wanted to just be normal. It reminded me of so many other stories I had seen of growing up Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, Mexican, anything other than white. Everyone who had eventually come back into their true identity first fought like hell to be considered American enough.

The tales of children preferring to go hungry rather than field endless questions about their food at lunch time, pepper the memories of so many masters of non-american cuisine. These are the tales of the Indian Americans, the Korean Americans, the African Americans, the Chinese Americans, the Guatemalan Americans and so on. These are the tales of people who had to endure abuse at the hands of people who were never taught that different wasn’t bad. Children who were not taught to embrace things outside of themselves became bullies, whether intentional or not.

But these stories also tell a darker truth. Growing up, I was always told that the United States was a big melting pot. It is the location of dreams and the place where anyone can make it. But that is only after you have allowed the essence of who you are to be scorched away so that you will mold yourself into what the real American is. These stories tell us that the real Americans are white and slender. There is nothing else to it. That means that hundreds of children are trying to prove their Americanness against insurmountable odds. The little brown child can never be white. They will never be white enough to fit into a society that views white as the standard for Americanness.

Personally, for me, in circles where diversity was nonexistent, I was shunned by people of color for not being black enough (because I loved and still love rock music) and shunned by whites for-well, duh, not being white. That meant that I felt like an outsider much of my youth. It was wasn't until I went to public school in a wildly diverse school in an obscure NY town (actually called a Hamlet), that I realized that I was an amazing, creative human being part of a vast universe of other amazing human beings. I learned that being black wasn’t bad, being white wasn’t necessarily bad either. We all just were. I had access to so many different types of people that no one said, “Ew, what are you eating?” Rather they said things like, “Wow, what’s that. That looks good. Hey can I come over for dinner?” I grew up in a tiny snapshot of how wonderful life could be in America. In the so called real America, where difference is valued and the melting pot is full of delicious flavors.

As we struggle with the usual issues, grinding slowly to the total destruction of American society so that it can be built back better for real, I will continue to lose myself in the stories of people doing what they love and living their dreams, remembering the joys of growing up-if only for three years of high school-in the real America.

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Naima Flint

Naima Flint

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I am a writer and an artist. I won’t make you rich, I may make you laugh, I might piss you off. Please consider subscribing if you find you enjoy my content.