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What Brings America Together? And Why Can’t I Be American in America?

Just finished reading Lauren Yee’s “Ching Chong Chinaman” and it’s got me thinking more deeply about something I often think about: What the hell brings America together? Like, honestly, it’s a land made up of different peoples with different cultures, different backgrounds, different languages, different dialects. It’s a big country with an even bigger range of people. Sure, there’s the “melting pot,” but, come on, does anyone ACTUALLY believe that. What even is a melting pot anyway?

Had to look it up, start with the basics. Merriam Webster defines it as “a place where a variety of races, cultures, or individuals assimilate into a cohesive whole : the population of such a place.”

“Assimilate?” God, I hate that word. As a first generation Brazilian-Persian I WILL NOT LET GO OF MY CULTURES. They’re the world I know through my parents, my connections to many of my loved ones, my upbringing, and the traditions I take part in. They are me. I will not give up my Brazilian warmth and hugging habit just because Americans don’t understand the concept of a friendly touch, at least not like Brazilians. I will not give up eating feijoada, pao de queijo, strogonoff, and cove for burgers and fries or mac n’ cheese. I would NEVER EVER stop blasting samba on my speakers or stop singing “Rapunzel” by Daniela Mercury and “Bem Que Se Quis” by Marisa Monte at the top of my lungs. And no I won’t give up my dad’s perfect Persian dishes (although now that I’m a vegetarian I’m trying to figure this thing out, all the while thinking, “Great, is this assimilation?”) and I won’t give up listening to Rastak because it sends electricity up the soles of my feet. If assimilation is abandoning my cultures, then no, I won’t fucking assimilate. Não vou assimilar.

Growing up in LA, I always felt Brazilian-Persian in a sea of other hyphenated people. I mean, yes, identity changes depending on where you go: In LA, I’m from The Valley; in California, I’m from LA; in Boston, I’m the Californian/ West Coaster who doesn’t understand snow; and only abroad am I American. But do I really have to leave America’s borders to feel American? Why can’t I be American in America? Can I be Brazilian-Persian and American at the same time?

If I want to be all three nationalities at once, can I subscribe to the “melting pot” myth?  I mean, focusing on the “cohesive whole” aspect of it, maybe I  can’t. The most basic example is my name: Giselle Boustani-Fontenele. My name is too long for Twitter; the American company didn’t realize some people have two last names. And my hairiness — America asks me too many times to shave off my Persian-ness. Well TOO BAD!!!!! PERSIANS ARE HAIRY. Deal with it. Shit.

I’m just sooo tired of feeling like my multiple identities are not cohesive. I’m this amalgamation, this mosaic, this salad, and maybe tomatoes and strawberries just don’t belong in the same salad bowl. I’m too many imagined communities at once, and the melting pot is a lie.

So if I’m a salad, is there some kind of American dressing I can pour over myself to make the salad work? To make it a “cohesive whole?” Problem is I just can’t define “American.” It’s too many things at once, and not enough people define it the same way. What holds us together? Our language? Eh. Fast food? Hollywood? The Pledge of Allegiance? What is distinctly American that all people can agree is distinctly American? Is it as easy as saying “plurality”? Or is that too easy?


About gbfontenele

Director and dramaturg in training. Free spirit and questioner from the beginning.

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