Editorial

Child of empire

In the four years that have past since I began college, I have grown increasingly uncomfortable with my country and the decisions it makes. I don’t support the war in Iraq. I don’t support government-sanctioned torture (or any other torture for that matter). Our economic system has made the rich even richer, and the poor even poorer. And yet, my mailing address is still Roseau, Minnesota. My passport has an eagle embossed on the front. Every April, my tax dollars go into Washington’s coffers. America has become my awkward cousin; I feel strong familial loyalty to her, but I don’t want to claim her.

I’m a citizen of the most affluent country in the world. Both of my grandfathers were decorated war veterans. My ancestors owned slaves. I can recite the Pledge of Allegiance, the Gettysburg Address and the preamble to the Constitution without so much as batting an eye. I am an American.

Further still, I am a middle-class white kid who grew up in the Midwest. I was raised on a steady diet of patriotism and duty to God and country. In this setting, conscientious objectors were traitors and not voting meant shirking your civic duty.

I can vividly recall, when I was 8 years old, writing a poem about how great my nation was and reading it to a classroom of my peers. It was President’s Day, and we were encouraged to don red, white and blue clothing. Cory, one of my classmates, read a supernaturally long poem his mother had sent with him. I can still hear him shyly reciting something about Old Glory and the trenches in Europe. Looking back, that grade-school realm of empire seems surreal.

And whether you want to chalk it all up to ethnocentrism or naïveté, it honestly never occurred to me that there was anything wrong with how my country went about things. I never realized anyone else thought there was something wrong with the U.S., unless you count those “terrorists” in the far-flung regions of the “Middle East,” wherever that was.

Moved to Canada
My starred-and-striped worldview was called into question when, as bright-eyed 18-year-old, I moved to Canada for college. Suddenly, I was surrounded by people who did not see eye-to-eye with me about the motherland. I was called “Yank” and “Yankee,” which, I suppose, was not nearly as bad as it could have been. And whenever my ignorance showed, some kind-hearted soul was there to inform others: “Don’t worry; she’s American.”

One day as I was having lunch in the campus cafeteria, the table talk turned to the Iraq War. I squirmed in my plastic seat. I was the only American at the table, and so I felt it my sacred duty to say something in defense of the pre-emptive strike. But before I had the chance to utter a single “God bless America,” a guy at the table, in complete seriousness, called me a warmonger. Flabbergasted at the accusation, I excused myself from the table. American, Yankee, warmonger – being American was no longer a badge of honor and pride; it was an ugly epithet.

In the four years that have past since I began college, I have grown increasingly uncomfortable with my country and the decisions it makes. I don’t support the war in Iraq. I don’t support government-sanctioned torture (or any other torture for that matter). Our economic system has made the rich even richer, and the poor even poorer. And yet, my mailing address is still Roseau, Minnesota. My passport has an eagle embossed on the front. Every April, my tax dollars go into Washington’s coffers. America has become my awkward cousin; I feel strong familial loyalty to her, but I don’t want to claim her.

Some hope
Barack Obama has given me some hope for my country – hope that maybe the poor won’t be ignored, that this six-year long war won’t go on forever, that my country won’t be forever run by rich white males (though we still need to work on the rich and male part), and that maybe the rest of humanity won’t think we are trying to turn the world into our own homogenized empire. I have hope that things can change, yet I know America is still America. Big. Rich. Powerful. Selfish. Blind.

In less than a month, I will be marrying a Canadian. Our plans in life don’t include a return to the red, white and blue. “Why do you want to leave the U.S.?” my polite American friends ask me. “You want to live in Canada!?” the impolite ones say, as if I had just told them I was planning to live in a pup tent in the Mojave Desert. Some days I feel as though I am caught in an international tug of war between the nation I was raised in and the nation I came of age in.

So for now, I live in that uncomfortable space of being a reluctant American. Of feeling bound to a country that I no longer agree with. It’s the awkwardness of being American.

Emily Mekash is an intern with Geez. She grew up in Roseau, Minnesota and now lives in Otterburne, Manitoba

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