• Vol. 03
  • Chapter 04
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You Make Me Feel Un-American

You make me feel Un-American – Norman Rockwell and Grant Wood, Georgia O’Keefe and Andrew Wyeth. I don’t know these places you’re painting. I don’t. They’re foreign to me.

I see farms in movies, small town Main Streets on black and white TV. The tumbleweed and sun-bleached skulls of the west are backdrops for skittering cartoons.

I come from a place where you can only see a grove of buildings, windows facing brick, soot-smeared walls, asphalt and concrete. English is not our native language. We only use it to shout at one another on the street.

Don’t tell me about your wheatfields, your windmills, your pitchforks, your pickup truck, your cows, your pie cooling on the windowsill, your front porch.

You make me feel Un-American. I don’t know what you’re trying to tell me, what you want me to say back when you show me these people on their land, in front of their houses, under the big sky.

We don’t own any land. We don’t have a house. We hardly even have any sky.

We draw grids in chalk on the sidewalk, and we throw our bottle-caps down, and we hop and hop and hop, hoping we don’t fall onto the wrong square. We double-dutch. We sing: I’m cool, I’m fine, I’m Soul Sister Number Nine. We go to the middle of the road and pretend to be tying our shoes when the cars come. We get in trouble for playing chicken during recess.


You Make Me Feel Un-American

You make me feel Un-American, like I’m stammering in front of Senator McCarthy, trying to explain myself, telling how, even though the smell of beans and garlic are wafting down the hall, really, we are American. And those things that look like bananas? They’re not bananas. You fry them. You eat them like potatoes. Like those potatoes you grow in the ground.

You, when you’re sitting in your big dining room, with the good china in the cupboard, when you walk outside and see the fireflies glinting in the perfect blackness of night, when the truck pulls up and dust rises in the driveway like a cloud, and you squint your eyes to see who’s coming: it’s me. I’m coming.

William Carlos Williams was right (he almost always was): I have never felt the whoop of the prairie. I don’t know how to ride a horse, and I don’t go driving down back roads in the melting night, and I have never been on Route 66.

You make me feel Un-American. And I don’t mind that any more. It always was a narrow way of defining things. It always was just a way of dividing instead of adding. It always was a myth.