*As featured in Jaded, a magazine belonging to Brandeis University.
“HOW CAN YOU NOT REMEMBER THE PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE?”
The answer was quite simple: I spent my entire life denying the facts. In the classroom, I learned how to identify each state and its capital, how to reword the Preamble with my own subordinate locutions, and how to place a hand over a reluctant heart. As for asserting myself as a true American, I have never been able to do so shamelessly.
I had read Steinbeck and Fitzgerald; I had praised Salinger for his portrayal of the American Dream; and most notably, I had cried over the subject matter. While these tears should have been indication of how I am fully invested in America’s vision of prosperity, it has left me feeling both wary and distant.
So, instead of immersing myself into the society of free speech and equal opportunity, I pressed my cheek against an outdated snowglobe, cracked from fits of self-doubt and indignation.
And quite frankly, I had wasted my efforts searching for this land of miniature people and colorful houses, to realize that neither existed beyond a snow-covered glass dome.
What did exist, though, was my mother’s story of Vietnam and her never ending resilience. These tales–my grandmother being imprisoned because of communism, my uncle nearly drowning on the sinking boat, and my grandfather struggling to make ends meet–followed me on every bus ride to and from school. And obviously, this sentiment should not have been mine; yet, there it was, guiding my actions at the age of eight.
A time in which I decided that I was not worthy of the luxuries that this country afforded me, and so to address the “injustice of it all,” I began to identify myself as a member of my parents’ rich cultural history.
How I wanted so much to be regarded as a person of Eastern lineage; yet, whenever I attempted to speak in my native tongue, I just proved time and again that I was a fraud. To others, I was seen as a bamboo shoot, hollowed out to the point where I couldn’t control the water surging through me. Or, more accurately, I was nothing both another “Jook-sing.”
But I refused to believe that this word was anything but a long-running gag at family dinners. I refused to believe that I was a lost cause in anyone’s eyes, and so, I researched all sorts of media, from the specifics of calligraphy to polished Confucian literature.
I even remember the time I painted an image of cherry blossoms, hoping to bring a smile to my grandfather’s wrinkled face. And dammit, I was proud, proud of the shuddering petals, the aesthetic melancholy, the faint possibility that he could acknowledge me as his granddaughter. I even sensed a certain intricacy, the sort that tangles itself in naked branches–until I remembered that he had a degenerative eye disease, and couldn’t even see.
We try so hard, we do. But we waste our efforts on matters that don’t require our energy, and break ourselves in the process. I believe I was fourteen when I became aware of this existential irony, in which I was blinded by an impulse to fit into a clear-cut bracket. To the point where I was even less perceptive than someone with a clouded vision.
Why do we waste our hours on the task of self-identification for its own sake? How can we completely lose ourselves in one facet of our being? How can we pursue goals that would lead to ultimate failure if we actually “succeeded?”
I don’t know the answers. But I do know that I have so many opportunities to make my life one that is worthy of discussion, and my ability/inability to face a flag can never get in the way of that.