Growing up in America, I never questioned what it meant to be American. I just was. I was born the year John F. Kennedy was shot. I lived the first four years of my life with my parents, four sisters and a set of grandparents, on the main floor of a three-family house in the South Bronx (my father was the super).
The summer of 1967, also known as the “Summer of Love” (referring to the birth of the hippie culture), was when my family moved out of “the city” to the suburbs of Brentwood, Long Island—a blue-collar town that is today famous for the MS-13 murders of two teenagers, Kayla Cueva and Nisa Mickens.
Brentwood was a quiet, safe place to raise a family then. Our house was the summer camp to my many cousins still living in the South Bronx. We had a backyard with an above-ground pool and we would ride bikes around the block without worrying our parents. Our neighbors were predominantly of Italian and Irish descent. My family was the first Puerto Rican family on the block. I did not make these distinctions at the time.
It was not until I reached middle school that I was introduced to my being a “minority” and treated to bilingual Spanish classes where I met the first Puerto Ricans that I was not related to. I do credit those bilingual classes for my aptitude in Spanish today. I also made life-long friends during those classes, perhaps because we all pledged allegiance to the flag with the same accent.
My parents spoke English with a Spanish accent, so I learned to speak English with an accent. To this day, others struggle to discern my origins when I speak. When inevitably asked where I am from, without hesitation I proudly respond to the confused face looking back, “I am American” (no hyphen added).
To those who inquire further, I explain that I was born here (New York) but my parents were born in Puerto Rico and emigrated to this country in the 1950’s, just in time for my father to be drafted to fight in the Korean War.
But my father’s generation was neither the first Americans in our family nor the first veterans. My great uncle joined the army in 1917, motivated by the promise of an American passport. It turned out that just two weeks after he enlisted, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Jones Act of Puerto Rico, granting all Puerto Ricans American citizenship. Nonetheless, my great-uncle’s sacrifice marks the beginning of my family’s proud American legacy.
The American generations before me were born proud Jibaros from the mountains of Luquillo, on my mother’s side, and Cariduros from the seashore village of Fajardo, on my father’s side. Jibaros are the hillbillies of Puerto Rico—descendants of a mix of white European immigrants and native Taino Indians that settled in the mountains.
The Cariduros, predominantly descendants of a mix of black slaves and white Europeans, were so called because for centuries Fajardo was the target of foreign attacks successfully defended by its inhabitants until their ultimate surrender to the Americans in 1898 when Spain ceded Puerto Rico to the United States after the Treaty of Paris officially ended the Spanish-American War.
As a descendant of white Europeans, Taino Indians, and black slaves, I am uniquely qualified to dismiss the racial labels forced upon me and my colorful family and simply choose to be American. In my middle school days, I was first a Puerto Rican but never questioned my Americanism. In Teddy Roosevelt’s words: “Americanism is a question of principle, of purpose, of idealism, of character. It is not of birthplace or creed or line of descent.” I love America because the European white, native Indian, black slave mix that I am is free to all at once choose to be the American so pointedly described by Roosevelt as the American that I am.
I love America because I am free to divorce myself from the oppressive labels forced on me since my middle school days by the likes of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, her Marxist predecessor Bernie Sanders, and Joe Biden, their puppet. I do not identify with the many-colored political labels used to describe me over the years.
I am not the “Hispanic” of the 70’s nor the “Latina” of the 80’s. I am not “of color” as I was called in the 90’s. I am certainly not “white with privilege” needing to apologize to my brown father and sister or be deemed a “racist.” I am an American with a proud lineage of patriots who have been fighting since WWI for my freedom to identify as I am.
I love America because I am free to choose who I am—I am American, period.