I never really felt proud to be an American. In addition, I never really could relate to history courses in high school and college, but I couldn’t exactly figure out why. All of that changed when I visited Washington, D.C. for the very first time a few years ago. I was going there to take a course at the Center for Applied Linguistics in Dual Language Teaching Methods.
I was there with three other fellow teachers. We were all part of pilot dual language (two-way immersion) program in Kansas City, MO. As soon as we landed and took a taxi to our hotel (which was near Dupont Circle where all the embassies are located…very cool) I caught a glimpse of the city and many of the monuments. I was reminded of Rome, Italy and the long walks my sister and I took to see all of their monuments and museums. I was looking forward to venturing out into the city to do just the same. I had heard about Arlington Cemetary, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Smithsonians of course and was looking forward to simply enjoying another large city in the U.S.
After our classes ended we ventured out into the city. I, of course, had to go see the Celia Cruz (a.k.a The Queen of Salsa) exhibit at one of the Smithsonians. The ladies I was with wanted to go to the National Archives, the Vietnam Memorial, and Arlington Cemetary. Quite honestly, all I wanted to do was check out the Smithsonians and the Holocaust museum. I wasn’t really interested in seeing all the “original” documents in the National Archives. I went nonetheless.
If you have ever been to Washington, D.C. you probably have experienced something similar. Once you “get over” the excitment about seeing these amazing monuments at our nations capital, you will probably start to reflect on ALL the names on the Vietnam wall, the statues of “real people” near the Lincoln Memorial, the pictures of actual soldiers at the Arlington Cemetary. And you will start to reflect and think about what their lives must of been like. What their families must have gone through. I usually don’t say or feel this way about veterans, but I felt a sense of gratefulness for having people willing to go fight for our freedom, but also a sense of guilt for not feeling this way before….I can’t explain it. If you ever have a chance to go you may also realize that D.C. can be a little depressing…especially after visiting the Holocaust museum.
One of the last places we visited was the National Archives and it was there that I finally realized why I never felt a sense of pride for being American, nor did I feel like I fit in….as I am writing this, I still lack the words to describe exactly how I feel. There’s a sense of disconnect. At any rate, in the National Archives there is this wall and on the wall there are a series of questions. If you can answer “yes” to one of the questions then there is a possibility that you or your family has some sort of record in the archives. After answering “no” to several questions in a row I had to pause. Thats when it hit me! My family has NO history recorded in the National Archives. Many of the records are from before the time my parents immigrated to the U.S. I know this may sound irrelavent to many people, but if you could only have lived in my skin, only then could you understand.
So, how did my visit to D.C. re-shape my identity has a Mexaican-American? Well, it took me a while shortly after my trip to D.C. to feel a sense of American pride. I’m proud that my generation, the first-born and raised in the USA, is recording history as Mexican-Americans. There are still times when I feel a sense of disconnect, but for the most part I can pinpoint where I stand today as a Latina in the US and how my generation will and has shaped US history. As I type the final words to this posting I’m still a little unsure if I realize how my identity was re-shaped by this extraordinary visit. Maybe it’s because my identity is constantly evolving….