I spotted this tee hanging on the clearance rack of one of my favorite local thrift shops. I picked it up and immediately loved the soft, worn in feel and the faded, soaring eagle graphic; I noticed the big blaring text screaming PROUD AMERICAN, which I had mixed feelings about.
I hesitantly put it in the cart thinking, it’s just a cool vintage shirt, nbd.
But I couldn’t let it go.
What did being a Proud American mean, today? I mean, truly, truly mean? What political connotations did it have? Did I agree with those political views?
This all sounds very dramatic. At least, that’s what I’m imagining my family thinks if they were to read this. There would be no short of eyerolls and Oh, brothers, murmured in frustration. If this is you, you can laugh at what this internal crisis looked like in real life: it was me, with bed-head, in workout clothes, surrounded by my fellow elderly thrift seekers nervously picking up a t-shirt looking at it, putting it back, picking it up, putting it back, looking more confused and becoming more sweaty as I battled with my own conscience. It was admittedly ridiculous.
But I can honestly say, I felt a strange conviction about it…
Am I proud of our current America?
I mentor, a group of elementary girls here in Albuquerque. Most of which are from our poorer neighborhoods in Albuquerque and Latino. They’re my friends, my little girl gang. One girl in particular is full of life, laughter and an unlimited amount of vine impressions. I’ve known her for a year and a half, which was about when her parents were deported back to Mexico, leaving her here alone. It’s hard on her. She misses them, she doesn’t get to see them often, she has had to grow up fast along with her siblings. Her current living situation is less than ideal; this child is in need of her family. And I’m certain her parents need her. They don’t get to experience her childhood with her; to hear her jokes, to see her paint wild, bright flowers on everything, to watch her become who she is. In turn, certain aspects of her childhood have prematurely and forcefully ended.
And I just think to myself, how could I be proud of the America that separated my littlest friend, this beautiful 9yr old, from her parents who love her?
I would hate to be anything less than honest and say,
I haven’t faced true hardship.
Not like this, not like my little friend. Not like the hardship of the Black Community, or any number of dismissed communities that call America home. I am privileged; it would be ignorant not to acknowledge that. While my dad grew up dirt poor and my parents had very little when they got married. I am only a product of their sacrifice. We grew up with need for nothing and that wasn’t my doing, my earning or my work, it was theirs. My privilege was to grow up lower-middle class, have a stable home life, get a descent education, have no fear of law enforcement and be part of those who are protected by the U.S. constitution. It’s no secret that not all Americans feel that way, experience that freedom or share in that privilege.
Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful to live in a place where I was given opportunity. Opportunity to have an education and start a business as a young, half-brown woman. Truly, truly I am grateful but I believe there is a stark difference between gratitude and pride. I can acknowledge and express gratitude for what I've been given but I can’t take pride in the fact that those opportunities are limited to people of a certain background, color, or race. I can't be proud until the divisiveness ends and hate isn’t a political strategy and agenda.
So I didn’t end up buying the shirt…
Not the first time. I went home, mulled over these thoughts for a good two days and ended up going back to buy it a week later (surprise, surprise it was still there). Though, it only seemed appropriate to make a few changes first!
While they aren't my words. I thought the powerful words of Childish Gambino seemed a fair and appropriate statement to plaster over this tee and affix onto the back of this Levi's denim jacket.