Happy July 4th!!! The day America became free. The Red, White, and Blue. The Land of the Free, Home of the Brave. America the Beautiful. This Land is my Land, This Land is your Land. OK, now I’m reciting everything I ever learned in Elementary School Choir.
But in all seriousness, my patriotism runs deep, I’m an American History fanatic (can count the 44 presidents backwards) and I read the Federalist Papers for fun. My ultimate goal in 4th grade was to be a colonial chick, preferably: Felicity of Williamsburg, VA from the American Girl collection. I grew up super-whitewashed, can’t you tell?
And despite what the cynics say, I am very grateful to have been raised in a country that is relatively more free and absolutely more blessed by Jesus. It is what my Persian-Islamic ancestors would have wanted.
Growing up in a really non-diverse/white state, made me want to be very American– in the sense that I wanted to assimilate, be like the other kids, and not have smelly lunch food. I thought being American meant Lunchables, Pepperoni pizza, and platform Sketchers– all things I was forbidden from. But my American Dream of being one of them would always elude me.
I had darker skin, darker hair, and my parents had accents.
And it seemed every July 4th reminded me of how un-American my family really was. Fireworks, bonfires, and popsicles all bring back memories of how culturally isolated we were in a state where there were about 3 Iranians, and no other family members.
For those Iranians or Middle-Easterners who grow up in multi-cultural areas, the need to assimilate is less– there is no shame in being Persian/Iranian in Tehrangeles/OC/etc. But the less there is, the more it stands out.
I remember how much I hated my parents going in for Parent/Teacher Conferences, and I would look for signals if the teacher would treat me differently after them– oh no, did he see we weren’t American? That we’re different?
I remember a 4th of July that we were invited to my Art teacher’s home by the Lake, she was 70 or older but her house was known for its annual 4th of July BBQ. I begged my parents to just not go, I was in 5th grade and I knew the embarrassment that lay ahead, but they insisted–I’m sure they wanted to see what this Independence Day-Hype was all about.
As the guests threw back beers and hot dogs, my sober parents (they don’t drink) watched fireworks quietly from a bench…alone.
I also stood out from all the kids too, with my thick white stockings and long-sleeved cardigan. I wasn’t allowed to wear shorts and tank tops, or even to go swimming in the lake- so I eventually just found my way to the bench to watch the fireworks with the two immigrants.
I have many July 4th stories from my childhood that start and end in a similar way.
For so long, I tried to separate myself from my parents- the immigrants, I wanted to be the American. And when I couldn’t, it really frustrated me. I thought
if America was the great Melting Pot, why hadn’t my parents melted yet?
It was only after 9/11 that I realized I was taking out my frustrations on the wrong people. My parents were just as American as the WASP next door. They paid the same taxes, the kids went to the same schools, and we all earned the same benefits. There was nothing terrorist about my family.
My parents put up an American flag on our porch after 9/11 to put suspicion to rest. Why did that suspicion have to exist in the first place? Why couldn’t people educate themselves on the difference between Islamic Fanatics and hardworking Muslims?
I was sick of answering dumb questions, because some parents were just as ignorant their children:
“No, my dad does not wear a turban”
“Islam does not say anything about flying planes into buildings”
“No, I don’t ride camels”
“No, my Uncle is not Osama”
I struggled against my culture and religion until it started being attacked by the same people I wanted so badly to be like. Then I realized, ‘hey, fuck you- its time you understood’
Maybe I’m still a little angry. Maybe I’m being too harsh– but I’ve come to appreciate my American-ness for the freedom it allows me to embrace my differences, not for the desire to conform.
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