Flying Flags

I remember sitting in my second-grade class, my favorite elementary school teacher walking languidly between our desks on a warm, end of the school year day. It was a private, Lutheran school in mostly Hispanic town, but all the faces around me were white. In second grade, none of that registered. The thing that makes this otherwise nonplus memory a significant one, is that it was the first time I heard the song ‘America the Beautiful’. I listened to a tape recording while images of grain fields and purple-peaked mountains flipped slides on a projector. I felt the deep connection I have always felt with the earth blossom and tie itself for the first time to my patriotism- my love of country. And color me red, white, and blue, that day I became the most loyal American (half- Canadian) you ever met.
You must know, I love this country. This land. These people. And yet here I am in the place I grew up, in the community of my birth closed in with the gray sea spray of the Pacific and the ever-white-capped peak of Hood, and I am aching with homesickness. This is not my land. I cannot find my way around this truth, and so I must finally sit with the sharp jabs of my despair, that I do not have any right to be here because my ancestry is 100% European and Eastern European and this is stolen land. And so, I have no home. Maybe back in Germany? Or Ukraine? But not here. Everyone around me tells me that this is my land. My country. My property. My home. On paper and in deed. But my heart screams back that it’s not and my justice-seeking heart feels the agony of a murdered people. Of a genocide right under our feet. It doesn’t matter how long ago it happened when its sheer fact is what allowed for European immigrants to settle right in and make themselves at home. I used to imagine the California Gold Rush with such dreamy romanticism. I used to wish with nostalgia for an imagined past, one that was born from my textbooks and children’s fiction. In my play as a child, I always pretended to be a Native American kid with a little sister and no parents- very “Island of the Blue Dolphins” but with a Pacific Northwest Valley kind of topography. And now I know that if that had been my past I would have been killed or put in a boarding school with all remnants of my tribe’s culture erased. I can’t unlearn what I know or ignore it for a second longer. And so, I mourn. I am simply in mourning in the name of conquest and expansion. I grieve for every tribe whose stories are gone. I scream for indigenous mothers and babies all across this continent who were raped and slaughtered. And I mourn that the greatest lie I was taught as a kid in school was that “this land is my land”. The purple mountain’s majesty is covered with the blood of the innocent. And we haven’t even gotten to slavery.
I might fly my flag again on the Fourth of July. Maybe years down the road. And I will always fly it on Memorial Day and on Veteran’s Day, because defending our people’s freedom and using our power justly to protect the lives of others across the world is one of the most honorable acts a person can perform. But today I will not apologize for my soul’s work and for the process that bettering myself requires. I will apologize to those whose ancestors were exploited for white gains. And I will absolutely work every day to educate myself and do the personal work required in order for racism in this country and within my own life to be completely eradicated and dealt with honestly. Today I will simply imagine what could have been while I weep for what became. I will touch the earth in honor of the lives that used to call this place home and refuse to give peace to my heart so long as there are still souls in this country suffering under the chaff of our pillaging and non-inclusion. And maybe along the way, God’s Spirit will cast a light on what I can do to somehow make it right.

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