I was taught stories about America—about faith and God and perseverance. I was taught about our founding fathers, all men. Their wives, good women, placidly behind them. I was taught about righteous blood and manifest destiny. And I believed this was America—the beauty, the freedom for all. I believed it because I could believe it. Because it’s easy to believe it when you are white and Christian and living in Texas.
I was also taught that my family—Evangelical homeschoolers—were persecuted because of our Christianity. This, too, was an easy thing to believe, especially in the early 90s, when my parents watched the news about Ruby Ridge when I was supposed to be in bed. When together, we all watched Waco burn. “See,” they told us. “We could be next.”
We were told to tell strangers we were in private school, so the government wouldn’t take us away. The government who had abandoned all of the founding moral principles of our nation. The government who killed babies and burned people seeking freedom.
Caught up in a narrative that had begun long before I was born, I believed all of it. I believed this story of America until I began to sneak books out of the library. Books about murders and ghosts, of course. But also contraband history. Books like Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry, which led me to read everything by Mildred D. Taylor. I stumbled into The Woman Who Ran for President: The Many Lives of Victoria Woodhull, and David Sedaris and eventually Sarah Vowell and David Rakoff. An odd assortment, and by no need a complete history, but it was enough to begin to create a dissonance, and within that space a new story of America began to unfold for me.
The story of America is different for everyone. But we hold fast to our narratives, insistent they are the correct ones, afraid to let them go. Because the story of America is the story of us and if we let that go, what is left for us? America is a broken window pane—shards of glass, each reflecting a different light. The light we see is the light we believe, until we stand up and move just a little.
Through the month of July, The Rumpus is publishing a series on patriotism. We asked writers to reclaim the word “patriot,” to think about what patriotism means and looks like for them. Each essay, book review, interview, poem, and piece of short fiction included in the project considers what it is like to live in a land and love a country that is broken and bleeding. What it means to live a story you didn’t write, or to exist in the spaces between the polar binaries we’ve created. What it means to live in America.
Read these stories—rage and cry and laugh. And just for a moment, look at each different refraction of light, and allow a new narrative of America to unfold.
Image credits: feature image.