I watched Steven Spielberg's Amistad for the first time this weekend. I cannot believe how good it was. It was very difficult to watch, but it really blew me away. And I actually got to see Matthew McConaughey in something other than a cheesy romantic comedy.
You know what I really liked about it? It showed America at its best and its worst at the same time. It didn't deny the racism and government corruption that existed at the time, but it also illuminated the finer points of our background (Anthony Hopkins gave a beautiful speech as John Quincy Adams, invoking the aid of his ancestors just as the African Mende do). Although I am never hesitant to speak out angrily about the terrible things in our past, I do really love this country and its history, which is why I was the only person on the planet who loved Jim Carrey's The Majestic.
Boyfriend said a funny thing to me recently. I had mentioned that I loved a set of lamps, and he thought they were ugly, and joked that in the future, if we're living together, any piece of furniture or decorum has to be mutually agreed upon. I smiled and said, "Okay, that includes gigantic Indian flags," referencing the one he has on the wall of his apartment. (When he said that the flag was his grandmother's, I felt like a total asshole, even though I had only been joking.) That got us to talking about flags. I said that I wouldn't put up an Irish or Italian flag that big, but then I realized that this was not the same thing. I then imagined myself in another country, putting up a large American flag on my wall to remind me of home, but that didn't seem like something I would do either. When I said this to Boyfriend, he laughed and said, "That's because you don't like America."
I'm sure he was joking, but all jokes come from somewhere, and I know at times I must seem like an anti-American American. I'm totally not. I think being a dissenter makes me the quintessential American :) But I have often thought about what it means to be an American, and it is quite confusing. Do I identify with America, or Scotland, or Ireland, or Italy? Or, perhaps, that tiny fragment of Russian blood that came from my mother's grandmother? I feel connections to the "Mother countries" but it is inherently a disconnected connection. The members of my family who emigrated here were my great-great grandparents on one side and great-great-great grandparents on the other, so it is not like I am a first- or second-generation American. True, we haven't been here since the 17th or 18th century, but we haven't just arrived either. It is like the national equivalent of the soon-to-be-nonexistent Limbo.
And it is strange that growing up I was taught all about the heros of our country, people we are supposed to revere and idolize, yet those people were only "my people" in the sense that I was born here. They were mostly British, something I am not.
I don't want to use the word "envious," because that word is too similar to "jealous" and, for me, carries a negative connotation, but sometimes I wish that I had such a clear relation to where I am from, the way Boyfriend has. One country he was born and raised in, one country whose flag graces his wall, a one-word answer for when people ask him what his ethnicity is. Mine, and that of many other Americans, is jumbled and confusing. But then, there is the other side of it. I remind myself that I get to connect with and cherish more than one tradition, and that is pretty lucky too, no?