Edward Z.

  • 5th Grade
  • California

What does America mean to you?

By Edward Z.
Manhattan Beach, California

What America means to me, as a child of first generation immigrants, is the belief in opportunity. To experience new things, to play lacrosse and clarinet, and maybe even run for Congress one day. As a Boy Scout, America is also our national parks, mountains and beaches, but with the threat of climate change I call on kids to protect the outdoors for generations to come. Our country has been through so much – conflicts, recessions, with a history of slavery. But it always bounces back. To me, America is about resilience and the power to move forward with optimism.

My family originally stems from white people in the 1480s. Our history as a family lineage started as lords and ladies of Irish and English aristocracy, but it soon divulged into something much uglier. That “pure” and strong bloodline began to split into almost 7 branches that each carry a history of pain, sorrow, happiness, and anger. I’m writing this as a black individual, who even today am carrying the wishes of my ancestors as I attempt to formulate prose for such a vague and unbecoming prompt. When the Transatlantic Slave Trade set its ugly intentions on America, I doubt that anyone besides the ruthless and cunning European knew how much of an impact it would leave on the United States, and the world as a whole for that matter. Only a couple years after 1619, my African ancestors would be dragged into unfamiliar land and separated from those they had cherished so dearly. And for years prior and after slaves became a “necessary Institution” for white settlers, the indigenous community would be massacred without a single thought. However I digress, because there is more to my story. For the entire 300 years of agonizing chattel slavery, African men and women were not treated as humans, and frankly every race besides the white was considered as less than scum. When reconstruction arrived, it seemed like the situation became better. But even for years upon years after the end of Reconstruction, my ancestors were still confined to the slaveholder’s quarters, participating in sharecropping: a legal way to continue slavery. Fast forward to the 1900s onwards, the Wright family line had broken into 5 different clans, each with their own trauma and desire to be free from the conditions that American provided them with. But again, they couldn’t do anything. Jim Crow Laws had been passed, and the threat of a lynching surpassed any will to fight back. Some descendants of Civil Rights Activists could call my family cowards, but in hindsight, they were doing all in their power to survive another day, hoping for the day when they could breathe freely. That brings me to my main point today, in a long-winded response to the prompt. America is a tale of surviving against being consumed. Indeed America has seemed to clean up its ugly spots in history, but the ramifications haven’t been as easy to erase. The trauma, animosity, anger, and guilt still permeate every ounce of my conciseness as an American. As a descendant of slaves, I feel guilty to call myself a child born in one of the “best” countries in the world. Perhaps it’s because I’ve seen what one’s so called “Best Country” did to my own relatives that causes such an aversion to being proud. Every day is a fight against myself and the trans- generational ideas still so wired in my brain. I have trust issues, and the trauma from a 300 year period has manifested in PTSD for something I didn’t even experience. Anger apprehends me when I think about how my family could have been united, but instead it’s turned into 7 branches that barely communicate, and full of individuals still holding onto that pain. Individuals who carry the burden of blackness in America, trying so hard to lift us up without realizing that they themselves have given up their entire being to the collective feeling of anguish. At least for myself and my family, you spend everyday running from the temptation to give yourself to the bewitching allure of being bitter, of being scared, of being hopeless. For me personally, I love America for what it gives, but I don’t like what it has done. It’s hard for us who were never given anything good by a country to resist hating it. I hope I’m not forsaking the sentiments of my ancestors , but I really, truly believe that they wouldn’t like to see an entire family of resiliency crumble at the culmination of anger and animosity. As a generation Z black woman living in America today, I’m slowly learning to heal the passed on trauma, and it’s a constant uphill battle to not be consumed by it . I’ve realized just recently that I am my own being , my own identity. And although the past will always be carried in my heart, I’m forging my own path in life, trying to escape the clutches of darkness that have overtaken some of my own family members. So I’d like to re-answer the prompt, just for myself this time. America is a pile of strings telling the stories of those who came before and who will come later. And like my ancestors did on the plantations, I’d like to turn America a string quilt, that tells a tale of spirit and strength. I refuse to let myself be destroyed by the past. Instead, I’m going to make a legacy that inspires, and warrants glory for generations to come.