This is Not My Country
The movie comes on, that single trumpet blaring on a black screen to let you know it’s The Godfather. A voice then rings in the darkness, with its strong Italian accent in a state of affirmation: “I believe in America.”
I wish I could say the same. But I don’t. Not anymore. This is not my country.
I was born in America. Went to American schools, lived an American life. Had my parents show their pride for this country and hoped that somehow it would pass on to me. But there is nothing left in my body to give, because I do not believe in this country. It is not mine.
Its words like the ones that I wrote above that my great-grandparents would spit on. They came here for freedom and liberty, where they weren’t persecuted for their beliefs and could move up in the world. America was their country, and they were exceedingly proud of it. So were their children, who threw everything of themselves into war efforts when they saw the threat at hand. They would find their fortunes in this country. Raise their children here in beautiful homes.
With others our grandparents built industry, technology and commerce. They explored great space and found cures in strands of DNA. They danced together, laughed together, watched movies in nickel theaters. They partnered together with their neighbors. Others’ strength was their own.
I would like to believe that during this time that politicians acted out of the best interests of people. However, I know that is something we have often told ourselves to make us feel better that we once knew what we were doing. Or at least somebody did.
But this is not my country.
Our parents were smarter, more educated. There were college degrees and destinies that their own parents couldn’t even dare dream of while working the traditional 9-5 jobs. There were new machines and great friends and places to travel to all across the globe. There were problems, but there was also a lot of fun to be had, and people from all different backgrounds melting together in this American stew.
Instead of sitting by and letting the injustices of the world pass them by, they picked up signs and began fighting, but not in the way their parents knew war. Instead of bullets there were questions. Instead of bloodshed there was music. They fought battles with flowers and created art in pure chaos. They asked why the world couldn’t be more than what others made it to be. Why couldn’t we be together and simply love, no matter who or what we were.
But this is not my country.
I can’t tell you the exact moment it changed. But growing up, I kept hearing me. Mine. My house, my car, my things. It just got bigger and bigger over the years. My money. My rights. My freedom. My country. My guns. My… everything. Not theirs. Not ours. Just mine and mine alone. Not for sharing. Although later an exception came in the form of My Opinion. In this case, it meant shouting it from every rooftop and disavowing others if they don’t agree. Because it’s “mine.” And sometimes you forget what it means to share.
As we grew up, something shifted in us. It was a mentality that seemed ingrained in us. We were special. We had all these great things that generations before us had built: Whirring gadgets and shiny playgrounds, big houses and designer names on our clothing. Getting yours is what mattered, and screw the other guy while he’s trying to get his. Fitting in with the ideal and feeling like you blended in with the rest of the world, yet standing above it at the same time. We were better than them. We would show them, whoever them was. We had to be stronger somehow. And if we weren’t stronger based on those things, people would find another way.
When I was in school, some kids chose guns. No one knew why. Fingers began pointing when two kids walked into a Colorado school in 1999, not unlike tens of shootings before and after in schools across the country. But no one would do anything about it anyway. They still don’t.
And yet… and yet. The buildings fell that September day. The chaos began. The fear sets in as we see the world outside of ourselves. The bond between us came in about five seconds, and fled just as quickly in favor of other emotions.
We weren’t better, and in turn felt unsafe because we aren’t. As human beings, we do everything in our power to feel safe again. We soon only associate with certain people and fear those who aren’t like us. Try to close borders to those who are like our great-grandparents, who are looking to have better lives. In turn, we are prevented from getting close to one another sometimes, or breaking free of the things that bind us to where we stand in our “safe” box.
There was another war building inside of all of us. We were told throughout our lives that we could change the world, and then watched as the world screwed us over. We give up everything and anything just for the security of having a job that keeps a roof over our heads and food on the table. It left so many without the hope and prosperity that the generations before hoped for us. And we want to say something. But the world bogs us down with obligations so strong that we don’t have the strength to fight anymore.
Cut to last Saturday, driving through Los Angeles in a snowy white car with a beautiful boy. He argues in the lateness of the hour that we haven’t had a democracy since that day in September and quotes Benjamin Franklin in saying, “Those who would give up liberty for security deserve neither.”
I want to disagree with him. I want to believe that we still have a democracy. But we don’t. Not when we have turned over the very things that have made this country great for the sake of our so-called safety over the years. Not when money talks more than people.
As a country, we are not safe, and it’s not from airplanes or attempted shoebombs. We have killed and destroyed more of each other over the years than the outside world has dared to dream of. Whether it’s sending someone into financial ruin or into murderous rage, it just takes a split second. All that seems to happen is that some has been pushed over the edge just so, and it’s the excuse. It allows a person to pick up a gun, take out a whole bunch of people and then either kill himself or be killed in pursuit. Or sometimes it even takes a company looking at a paper, seeing a person and saying, “Look how much money we can save.” They don’t pay for it. We do. And we keep paying.
This is not my country. My country isn’t a place where parties are interrupted with gunfire. Where teachers have to lay down their lives to save their students. Where people are commodities and playthings. It isn’t where the solution to anger and not getting what you want is by grabbing a weapon.
Everyone seems to just say in response to all these different difficulties, “Prayers.” “Prayers to…” and then fill in the blank for whatever location has just experienced a thunderstorm of chaos this day versus the day before. They say the words of prayers, but then after the prayers comes the words that only money can speak. So then comes the “We can’t afford to.” “We can’t afford to…” take care of the mentally ill who are often the blame of violence like this. “We can’t afford to…” enforce stricter laws. “We can’t afford to…” have this or that taken away or to run business ethically.
We can’t afford to. And the bodies keep piling up.
There’s something sick at work inside this country, where patriarchy, greed and the world we set up for ourselves seems to push us away from the very idea of human intimacy and togetherness. We are so far from each other that the only way we seem to get close is when someone tries to kill us. This lasts for… oh, say, three days tops. Then everyone gets to point fingers. Gun control. Terrorism. Mental illness. Government. At least there’s still one finger left to point at ourselves, because the truth is that there is us.
There is a culture that shrieks when they see a nipple but doesn’t bat an eye at a shootout. There are people who are willing to kill adults in the name of “saving” unborn children. We enforce a culture that tells us we are only worth so much unless we fit a specific mold of masculinity, femininity or anything else under the sun. We tell people they’re only worth so much if they have X or Y. And if we don’t fulfill these requirements, we go out guns blazing. No matter who it hurts.
After all, we are also the culture without respect. Who would rather turn to hatred for a difference opinion rather than a strong disagreement while looking for a solution; who feel that if you aren’t with me, than you’re my enemy; who can put aside differences to get things done for the greater good rather than your own ego. There is almost this forgetfulness that there are multiple shades in the crayon box other than black and white thinking.
This is not my country. I know what my country looks like. It’s a place where we are able to have the basic things to survive — a job, an affordable home, food on the table — without having to sacrifice everything to have it. Where we value human life, creativity and talent, not just view them as cogs in a wheel to keep the economy turning and easily thrown out when it’s convenient. It’s where we can go to a parties and not have to be searched and walk through metal detectors at the door. Where we don’t think about “mine” and rather we think about “we.” Where I feel safe beyond the arms of that beautiful boy I love. And the truth is that I haven’t felt safe for a very, very long time. How I long for a place where we can put aside our differences and make things right again not just for those who have, but those who don’t. Basically, for everyone, so we can be safe physically, mentally and emotionally.
We need to say something. We really do. But in a country where money seems to talk more than my words could ever say; where people are more concerned about their things, like guns, than in the lives of other people; where we send prayers and then let go of any responsibility to change the status quo, I can’t. The cloud of apathy seems to possess me at the very core, leaving me solitary and silent, brooding in the anger of what this place that my great-grandparents loved so much has become. And I’m tired to the point where that lonely trumpet of The Godfather tries to rouse me, but I’m numb. I just can’t anymore. I just can’t.
Because this is not my country. But how I wish it were.