The red white and blue flag waved on high as it celebrated freedom and loyalty even as the founding enslavers who promised everyone freedom but was really meant for land owning white Europeans a life safe from the horrors of living next to people who did not look like then and we believed them as we saw their neighbors lynch fathers and mothers while their own children stood witness as blood ran from the back of their heads in the cold rain with the red white and blue American flag waving as truth behind them on the same courthouse steps where they were ripped from a courtroom and carried high above the cheering crowd as if they were heroes to be honored but were instead just another number of so many numbers their clothes stripped and burned at their feet as they wailed one last song of hope for their children and their children’s children and the generations in an unknown future before the final layers of skin were torn from their faces and hands and feet and there was the blessing by the man with the white collar and black suit and black hat and bible in his hands with the pages turned to the curse of Ham held high as he gave the crowd the consent they wanted but was not necessary because they knew their flag was all they needed to prove that their nation was indeed theirs in the name of their enslaving fathers their privileged sons and their arrogant spirits. Amen.
This is the first in a series of works exploring what it means to be American.
I pledge allegiance to the flag but whose flag is it as I am standing there in the catholic school classroom with the white faces and red hair and blond hair and white shirts and white blouses and blue pants and black pants and the nuns are covered head to toe in their own hijabs but without their faces covered and they’re leading us in a solemn tribute to a country that tells me that I am an American but really they were just joking because I’m not really like them because my father is from Puerto Rico and my mother is from the Dominican Republic wherever the hell that is and even though I was born in Lincoln Hospital in the South Bronx that doesn’t give me the right to think that I’m an American citizen when in fact it was just an accident of time and place when the truth is that I could have been born somewhere else like Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic although I keep telling them that Puerto Ricans are American citizens since 1917 they keep telling me they don’t care because it’s nothing more than an island where they take the whole family on vacation to San Juan beaches and that rainforest whose name they can’t quite pronounce and anyway they say Puerto Rico don’t send their best and brightest except rapists and murderers and bank robbers and juvenile delinquents so really I’m not a real American blue blood but probably a descendent of criminals so they tell me to look at me they ask do I have freckles and red hair and black hair like those nice Eyetalian kids whose parents hang out at that social club across the street from Saint Rita’s Parochial school sipping expresso and playing cards and kissing the ring of the old man who occasionally shows up in a Cadillac with a fat driver and his pinkie ring and shiny suits and silk overcoats and shoes that definitely weren’t bought at Buster Brown and all I can think as I stand at full attention with my right hand above my heart screaming louder than all the other kids in the class I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America trying to prove that yes I am an American and they’re laughing because I’m screaming I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America louder and louder and sister Mary Joseph Jesus is now looking at me sternly and warning that she will not tolerate anyone making fun of the pledge of allegiance to the United States of America even people who claim to be Americans just because they were born here by accident in the greatest country in the world instead of somewhere else like on a boat called SS Marine Tiger or one of those propeller planes that come from some foreign country like Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic destined for LaGuardia or Idlewild Airport in New York where those black or brown or yellow looking people arrive to infect their great nation with foreign blood (Did I tell you that Puerto Ricans are American citizens since 1917?) and strange customs and strange music and strange language (Is that Spanish?) that is definitely not American or English and I scream louder as I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands one Nation under God indivisible with liberty and justice for all because I was told by my father from Puerto Rico and my mother from the Dominican Republic that they came to the United States of America because they were told by their uncles and aunts and cousins and radio shows and newspapers and movies before there was television that this here United States of America was the home of the free and home of the brave and that there was an America the beautiful and that because people have been coming from countries like Ireland and England and France and Italy and Germany and Spain they thought that well that means they could also be welcomed because they were looking for the same damn things those people from Ireland and England and France and Italy and Germany and Spain were looking for and everyone is looking at me as I’m thinking these things and they can hear me under the screaming of the pledge of allegiance to the flag that I am also an American because I was born at Lincoln Hospital in the South Bronx and that made me an American citizen and anyway my father was already an American citizen since he was Puerto Rican so I am an American because I was born in the United States of America as the voices stop and I drop my hand from my chest and smile broadly on my brown face under my black hair and through my brown eyes and nod that this is who I am, an American.