On Being a National

There are days I feel like a stranger in a strange land, that no matter how long I live in one place, I will always have a pull, a longing for another place. That no matter how much I assimilate into one culture, there will always be something that reveals my origins, identifies me as an other.

Today is July 4th, my home nation's birthday. I am currently sitting in a quiet cafe sipping Blue Mountain coffee and listening to an Emo album of Bob Marley songs as performed by a nymph-like woman (or so I imagine). It is an incredibly gorgeous Kingston morning. Mo is at work. At home, Song is playing with the babysitter and Shine is engaged at summer camp. It is just another day.

At my other home, the one I conjure in my dreams at night. The one that produced memories that I hold close to my heart. At that home, my family is preparing for a picnic. There will be loads of food with Uncle Bud at his station by the grill. There will be cousins running, jumping, shrieking, playing. There will be fireworks and flags.

My patriotism towards America has been questioned on more than one occasion. If I loved America, why would I ever leave? If I were a real American, why would I scrutinize and dare to speak out about the injustices of the government? If I were truly patriotic then I should have no problem uttering the words, "America is the greatest country in the world."

Here, I am almost immediately identified as a foreigner wherever I go yet American is hardly ever the first guess. It is usually British followed by German or Canadian. (I once even got Australian!) While there is a large population of all of those nationals here, Jamaicans are inundated with American culture. (The music has now changed to some very American country music with the twanging vocals and steel guitar whining softly in the background.) All of the television programing available in the States, is available here too. If I had cable I would be able to ogle at Anderson Cooper on the network news and be in the know with the latest episode of Downtown Abbey. Florida is a quick 1 hour plane ride away. I can BoGo at Payless and get super cute sandals and it is only a matter of time until I am rummaging through the clearance racks at Old Navy. So I find it curious that American is not the first thing people see when they see me. Do I really disguise it that well? Maybe I'm not as American as I think I am...

But I do love America and I am proud to be an American. I don't wear my patriotism on my shirtsleeve for the world to see, but just get me talking about the gorgeous (and vast) landscape. Ask me about John Muir's writing (who was actually born in Scotland) or Edward Abbey's radical visions. Give me an opportunity to expound on the New York School of painting and how those artists propelled us into the contemporary art of today. Let me share with you the history of indigo dyeing in the Southern United States and tell you about the Gullah people still living off the coast of North Carolina. I will spend an afternoon with you exchanging Native American folktales. I will bake one of the most delicious apple pies for you too and I'll play you the best jazz music while we eat it. Let me tell you about Community Supported Agriculture, cooperative education and public libraries. And then allow me to remind you of this:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.  

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. 

--Declaration of Independence 

Yes, I do love America. Happy Independence Day!