Morgan L.

  • 12th Grade
  • Michigan

What does America mean to you?

By Morgan L.
Lake Orion, Michigan

About six years ago, I saw a bald eagle. I was on a day camp with my sixth-grade class, where in that camp, they held hurt animals and tried their best to bring them back into the wild. I dont remember the eagles name, but I wish I did. He was missing feathers along with cuts and scratches all over his body. The eagle was hurt. The same eagle that represents our country. America: land of the free, home of the brave. America: protecting life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. America: where all men are created equal. Equal. What does equal even mean? Are we equal? If not, when will we be, if ever? I still think about that eagle, Hurt wings, beak, and legs, and will never be like the rest of the eagles. Outcast from the other birds and stuck in a camp with sixth graders. Sixth grade was without a doubt, a memorable year for me. I started middle school, in a much bigger school with many different kids, I learned my love for music, but most notably, I realized I was different. I like to blend in. I want to act, look, and talk just like the rest of the kids in my class. I dont need a spotlight, I want to be in the audience, where my face wouldnt be found or sick out. Finding out youre different is hard. Its a punch to the stomach, an idea that even just living my life would make me stick out. I spent my next year worrying. Can everyone see my uncommonness? My contrasting self? My separate self, an outcast from my class.

I had a recurring dream commonly in middle school. I started in a forest, with a house away from any other people, but one girl. One girl who would change everything. She was perfect: curly hair, brown eyes, and skin as smooth as silk. She was perfect. Perfect for me. She was everything I wanted. At first, I wanted to be her, until at the end of the dream, right before I woke up, I kissed her. The first time I had that dream I woke up in a sweat. I couldnt believe it. I couldnt believe myself. What did this make me? At this point, I was now, in a spotlight, and officially different. I still feel a lot of the same worries. I worry that when I walk into a grocery store, people can see my queerness. I wonder if even though theres no visible rainbow over my head, they might still imagine one. I worry about the day I get a girlfriend, and then everyone will know. Suddenly, holding hands is a signifier of my mismatched self and my puzzle piece that will never fit into societys expectations for me. Nonetheless, I am extremely lucky.

When I see the news, I am reminded of how grateful to live where I am. In other countries around the world, if I ever expressed my true self, I could be punished, even as far as death. Im proud of my country. Im proud of my 13 stripes and 50 stars. I see America as more than fireworks in July, to me America is safety. I was terrified of who I was and what people would think, but in the USA, I can express my true self. Someday, I can get married to a girl, and hold hands in public. In America, Im not punished for who I like – Im supported. In America, I have freedom of speech, and I can fight for my rights and people just like me. In America, I am heard. Im not screaming into an empty tunnel, locked away from society. My voice matters. About six years ago, I saw a bald eagle. A hurt and damaged bald eagle. The camp holding the eagle told me he was going to be out in the wild someday. Someday hed be back with other birds, back to flying just like he used to. Both the eagle and I went through our hardships, our struggles, but most importantly, our ability to persevere. In many other countries, I would be able to fly again. If I ever showed my true self, I would be an outcast forever. My voice would be an unknown sound and my face forever unfamiliar. Both the eagle and I are strong. We had our support from our country and environment to be able to fly again.

Today, I advocate for my rights. I fight for my representation. Sometimes, I look in the mirror, and I see my twelve-year-old self again. All the memories from 6th grade cloud my mind. But I see something different too. I stand up straight. My head is held up high. Im confident. While America may not be perfect and still have improvements needed, its my haven. America gave me the strength to advocate for what I want to see, to have the right to marry, and to be myself in public. America reminded me what I needed to see the most about myself. It reminded me of what I should never forget. I am strong. I persevere. I fly.