November 25, 2020

Whose America is it, Anyway?

You’ll notice, dear reader, that femmeliterate has been on hiatus. You might also note that this hiatus 1) began when the Midwestern state where our founding editor lives went into coronavirus lockdown and 2) extended through a summer in which all social events, vacations, camps, sports, and most travel was canceled. Misty, you say, plenty of other people used lockdown productively. They learned to crochet or bake bread. They delivered meals or made masks. They moved their work online and managed to homeschool kids, have online happy hours, and start community initiatives to chalk sidewalks or fill windows with paper hearts to assure others they’re not alone. Why not you?

Why not me? That is a question I am still asking myself.

To avoid answering it, I want to share with you some of the terrific books I’ve read recently. Conditional Citizens, just out from Laila Lalami, is one that I found particularly relevant as we head into the heated rhetoric and blazing attack ads of an election season. In this combination of memoir and analysis, Lalami, author of the wonderful The Moor’s Account, explores her experience as a Moroccan immigrant and naturalized citizen in the U.S., and what that means for the way she is perceived and addressed by the native-born. How many of us are aware that “border” checkpoints in the US can extend 100 miles inland? How many of us carry out passport or proof of citizenship about the country with us on our daily tasks and not just when we’re boarding a plane? How many of us are constantly challenged on whether we “belong” here, whether this is “our” country, whether we have a right to say how we think it should be governed? How many of us have been told to “go back to where we came from” when this is where we were born, or where our family lives, or the nation we have worked hard to become an acknowledged part of, or all of the above? With grace and insight and her singular voice, Lalami asks us to question whose America this is assumed to be, and why certain languages–or skin colors–or customs, or foods, or fill-in-the-black with what-have-you–are more “American” than others.

We used to be proud of how the U.S. was a “melting pot.” We used to point with pride to Lady Liberty and her poem by Emma Lazarus praising the U.S. as a place of refuge for the persecuted and oppressed. Or at least, some of us did. And some of us still want a home where diversity is welcomed, where different cultures and languages and ethnicities and differently abled and differently gendered bodies can be housed under the ideals of democracy, equality, fair representation under the law, liberty and justice for all.

Oh, if only: liberty and justice for ALL.

3 thoughts on “Whose America is it, Anyway?

  1. Looked for Conditioned Citizens but apparently none of the area libraries have it yet. Put The Moor’s Account on hold. Looking forward to getting it!

    1. Pat – I just saw this book on the New shelf at your local library! I put it face out on the top shelf for you. đŸ˜‰ Send us your thoughts if you get a chance to read it!

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