Learning to Love America

Chaplin, Purviance in "The Immigrant"

Chaplin, Purviance in “The Immigrant”

Fourth of July

It’s difficult to feel entirely celebratory about the 4th of July this year, what with thousands of children trying to crash the border while American nativists raise a hue and cry. Some members of the GOP are actively talking about deporting the so-called Dreamers as well, those people who crossed the border as children years ago and who know no other country than this one.

It’s a wrenching drama but hardly a new one. Many of those Americans who are now comfortably ensconced as citizens had forefathers and mothers who were similarly spurned. If we don’t want waves of immigrants from Latin America, then we need to support those countries so that their people don’t have to leave. Barring that, we must be as humane as we can. Fanning the flames of xenophobia creates nothing but toxicity.

Here’s a poem by a Malaysian-Chinese immigrant that reminds us that those who come here, if allowed to stay, will come to love America just as we who came earlier have come to love it. This process is what we celebrate today.

Learning to Love America

By Shirley Geok-lin Lim

because it has no pure products

because the Pacific Ocean sweeps along the coastline
because the water of the ocean is cold
and because land is better than ocean

because I say we rather than they

because I live in California
I have eaten fresh artichokes
and jacaranda bloom in April and May

because my senses have caught up with my body
my breath with the air it swallows
my hunger with my mouth

because I walk barefoot in my house

because I have nursed my son at my breast
because he is a strong American boy
because I have seen his eyes redden when he is asked who he is
because he answers I don’t know

because to have a son is to have a country
because my son will bury me here
because countries are in our blood and we bleed them

because it is late and too late to change my mind
because it is time.

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  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

    Please feel free to e-mail me [rrbates (at) smcm (dot) edu]. I would be honored to hear your thoughts and questions about literature.

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