My America by Tamar Samuel-Siegel

On a Wednesday evening in my America, I read the paper on the laundromat curb while my clothingspins clean. There’s a Confederate flag in the window across the street and I wonder what the personliving behind its curtain sees when he looks out. A Jew on the curb? A young white woman in boy’sshorts? No one at all? Am I pretty when anonymous? Does my identity change my face? I want to trickthe person behind the flag into liking me before he knows better.

In my America, I sing along to India Arie and Des’ree who sing about loving their own black beauty whileI feel mourners in South Carolina trembling the cement in the sidewalks with their pacing and their tears.

In my America, I learn to be white and woman and Jew and Northern and not-from-around-here andwhat-did-you-study and come-to-our-church and alcohol, no-alcohol and wisdom, no-wisdom and neighbor and stranger and I learn to be more gentle and more forgiving and more compassionate and more loving.

In my America, my parents speak English better than anyone I know and are fluent in Hebrew and mymother is foreign and naturalized and my father comes from Cincinnati, which is to say Russia, Lithuania, and Poland.

In my America, I learn the ropes anew in a former-factory, company town, flipping off the guard cameras that watch me walk out of the parking garage in my seven-years-ago shoes and my untailored layers. At work in my America, I don’t make enough to save up, but that’s more than I made last year or the year before, and the guy who helps with my taxes seems proud like a father as he points out my gains.

In my America, I consider my identity and my responsibility; I consider my means and my talents; I consider my worth and my growth… and I see my Christian Brother, Black Sister, street Uncle, wealthy Niece – I see and I wonder, in this river-crossed village of gas stations and collectable glass, are we converging or diverging? Are we willing, in my America, for peace?

And I know that the stories of “our America” will be beautiful stories – they will be diverse and hopeful and proud, and I will want to answer the only possible answer; I will want to answer only: Yes.

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