You were born in a hot, sweltering room in Philadelphia. You were conceived by a group of elite white men. No women were present. No people of color, except to service the white men.
These white men, still, had a sense of justice. At least some of them did, and listened to your words as you grew and evolved with their Constitution. They began to see the hypocrisy in “We, the People.” Some freed their slaves. Some loved them quietly.
America, as you grew, you became stronger. You began to rise above the territories, such as Virginia, Massachusetts, the Carolinas, Georgia. You united these colonies. You became The United States of North America, then, simply, The United States. Your name had great meaning around the world.
As you matured, your mind expanded. It worked to include Native Americans, African Americans, women, immigrants from around the world, refugees, and homosexuals, and tried to protect people not at home in their own private territories of gender.
You welcomed my father, who crossed an ocean from India with one suitcase and a head full of dreams and ambitions in the 1950s.
While you did your best to help him, gave him a scholarship and a church to watch over him, your children did not always behave. They knocked over a tray in a diner when he tried to serve them. They threatened him and his pregnant white wife in the South when he went for an interview. But the United States was stronger than these few children, and he became a successful professor and the first prominent Indian American watercolorist in these United States. He once said, with admiration, “In America . . . I learned about human audacity—that I actually believe I can create a better world.”
And thank you, America, for Amendment 1, which has allowed me freedom of speech and the ability and the stage to try to teach tolerance. You allowed me to found the Intercultural Essay Prize, to give a voice to others.
Perhaps that voice became too loud. There is always a backlash when a group starts losing power. And when a suppressed group speaks out. Or when a suppressed group gains power (I am glad to have lived to see a biracial president and a woman run for president).
Finally, dear America, you are experiencing a midlife crisis. Innocence is over, your dreams have been crushed, reality has set in. You are at an important transition point in your evolution as a democracy. But it is important for your citizens to understand that out of depression and turmoil comes opportunity for regrowth and an opportunity to learn more about you and your citizens.
I have faith in those elite founding white fathers and their vision, and in the prophets who expanded the vision. I have faith in my fellow Americans, who may grow in understanding when they hear of a child next door who wakes up crying out of fear for her safety, or of a teenager who was taunted at school, or of a colleague who was harassed on the train going to work, or of a place of worship that was desecrated. I have faith that their fellow Americans will hurt with them, and will find ways to heal their communities.
I have faith in these UNITED states of your America. You have faced deeper challenges and prevailed. Your roots, America, are deep, your core values are strong, and your citizens are awakening again. They will protest, write, act, photograph, record, march, call out. Because of you, they have the audacity to believe they can make a better world.
Tara L. Masih
Author and editor of The Chalk Circle: Intercultural Prizewinning Essays