Where does the good go

My country tis of thee

Brooklyn is famous for its Labor Day parade.

Immigrants and their children make floats and costumes and dance through the streets under various West Indian, Carribean and Latin American flags. My extended cousins did it every year. And every year my mom would urge me to join the kids on the Panamanian float. And every year I’d say the same thing.
“I’ll join the American float.”

I never much went in for that “dash American stuff.”* Until I turned nine, I spent a few weeks, each summer, in Panama. I could barely understand my cartoons. I couldn’t really speak Spanish without being laughed at for my accent and called “gringa.” All my cousins would beg me to let them come back to New York with me. They believed the streets in America were paved with gold and we ate McDonald’s everyday. I did nothing to dispel these views. But they were Panamanian. Me? American.

Of course, as I got further in my American history studies and started to move in circles other than those in my small East Flatbush community where everyone else was also children of dark skinned Panamanian immigrants, I learned that my simple worldview hadn’t always been the case; heck, there were people who still didn’t think it was the case.

Pasty faced boys who screamed “Go back to Africa” as they rode past me waiting at a busstop in Bensonhurst -an Italian-American neighborhood, chapters in my history books about people who look like me legally being counted as a fraction of a person, learning that my gender wasn’t even afforded the right to vote until the 1900s, they served as constant reminders of a centuries-old struggle.

How does it feel to be a problem, Du Bois famously asked.
I don’t know, stronger more eloquent people before me made sure, that for the most part, I am culturally and legally accepted. Barack Obama doesn’t become President of the United States without dogs and fire hoses being turned on Southern teenagers.

There are other “problems” now: Gay people, Islam practitioners, the transgenered, single mothers.
The arguments and the protests are always the same. They are not us, therefore they are a threat to us.
If history is our guide, we will come around. Today Lt. Dan Choi is dismissed from the military for being openly gay. Tomorrow, somewhere, a new Governor, his partner and their twin Chinese daughters Liza and Judy will be sworn into the statehouse. Today there are irrational protests to burn Korans, tomorrow the winner of the Academy Award for Best Actor will give a shout out to Allah.

We will recognize “them” as “us.” We will end legal barriers to “their” full participation as the Americans they are.

Then America will be America again. The America it wasn’t to the Indians, or the slaves, or women or those of Japanese and Irish descent. And we can all finally focus on what truly threatens our society: zombies.

Let America be America Again by Langston Hughes

Let America be America again.

Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed–
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek–
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean–
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today–O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home–
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay–
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.

O, let America be America again–
The land that never has been yet–
And yet must be–the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine–the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME–
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose–
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath–
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain–
All, all the stretch of these great green states–
And make America again!

**Without going into a lengthy discussion, “African-American” is synonymous for “black.” As there is no country called Africa, it obviously does not indicate that I am “African.” The term is a proxy for race. It’s about as accurate as saying, because I have brown skin, I am “black.”

8 Responses to “My country tis of thee”

  1. VinNay Says:

    Zombies are people too. Or is it – they eat people too? I can’t remember.

  2. Dawn Summers Says:

    You commented? Hooray, the boycott is over!

  3. Pearatty Says:

    Love this poem. Love. It.

    Yep. Got nothing else to say. . . . Nope, really can’t think of anything.

  4. Dawn summers Says:

    Yeah, that langston hughes cat is pretty good.

  5. Grange95 Says:

    Well said.

    (by both you and Langston Hughes)

  6. Dawn Summers Says:

    Ha! Yes, that dawn Summers cat is pretty good too. Just not at directions.

  7. Mary Says:

    Big fan of Mr. Hughes. I remember reading the poem at university and finding it inspirational. As I’ve gotten older, it’s hard not to be cynical and think we will never take back the land and make America again. I think we’ve passed a point of no return. However, when the zombie apocalypse hits, maybe then America will be America again.

  8. Dawn Summers Says:

    I should have known you’d be siding with the zombies.

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