We have a huge fireworks display in Columbus every year, and mostly every year I make the pilgrimage downtown to see friends, eat bad food and watch things go boom and light up the night sky. Each year, though, i’ve felt more disconnected from the idea of Independence Day and our country’s celebrations of “freedom and liberty”. Don’t get me wrong, I love where I live, and i’m as American as anyone else whose born of this soil. But each year as we put on our all-flag red, white and blue everything and corral at the nearest city center to revere America’s glory, it’s hard not to see the smoke-and-mirrors of it all. I know that’s way Debbie Downer, but it is what it is. Freedom is a privilege not granted to many, but promised to all. The pursuit of happiness is a journey that only some have the ability to embark on, others are just on the road to survival hoping to see the exit to happiness. When Langston Hughes wrote “Let America be America Again”, it was a different time for sure. But the words are still real, still inspiring. And as a fellow QPOC, it spoke to me, especially in its relevance today. His words influenced, inspired and encouraged mine – and this poem is an adapted work from his original 1936 work. Be well, and enjoy this day with people you love…reclaim it for you…and eat some barbecue.
Let America Be America, Finally (inspired by and adapted from the 1936 Langston Hughes’ work, “Let America be America Again”).
By Orie Givens
Let America Be America, finally
Let it be the hope we wished it to be
Let it be the change we’ve paved the way for
On the long, twisted, uneven and deadly road to equal prosperity
(America still isn’t America to me)
Let America be the place where freedom rings, for all to hear and see
Let it be the pride for true liberty for not just you but me and us equally
Where all can be affirmed despite their race, color, religion or ethnicity
Where genderfree love really wins for all, and all kids count and can be happy
In cities and towns big or small, north or south, from sea to shining sea
(Nope, wasn’t ever America to me)
O, finally let our land be a land where Liberty
Is more than the ritualistic, annual, glorified gun-blazed allegiance to flag and country
But people are free to love, and be loved as they want to be
And our primary values are not money or commodity but fairness and community
(Damn it, I’ve never felt truly free to be; not one minute, not one day in this “homeland of the free”)
And who are you heard in whispered tones, hushed and huddled in dark spaces, in nearly inaudible moans?
Who are you that breaks silence of night with screams turning darkness into light?
Who struggles not even to thrive, but to simply survive
I am the black man seen as number 1 public enemy, even killed, or told to “make it” but to never feel fulfilled, because you’re still a stupid nigger no matter how many accomplishments you build
I am the black woman, seen, objectified, vilified but ignored
despite achieving greatness daily in the face of adversity
Unless it’s to talk about her being angry, or to comment on her hair or booty
I’m the poor, hungry white dude living entitled expectations unfulfilled, rebuilding a life I never thought I’d have to rebuild
I’m the exiled two-spirit trying find peace within
Yearning to be a part of the circle again
I am the genderqueer kid told he was an accidental freak, violently silenced by the burden of being unique, seeking self-harm to illuminate the bleak
I’m the undocumented trans latinx woman fighting, phoenix rising
Tethered down by, but still breaking, the shackles of our oppressive powers that be
Standing up even when other oppressed people told her she had no right to speak
I am the young man full of strength and hope
Bound by society’s ancient endless chain
To be the “man’s man”, alpha dog – to always meet that unattainable pinnacle of masculinity
To fight! to fuck! Conquer and control the weak!
To take! To own! To seek and win, for all is mine and mine to keep.
No matter the cost. Living original sin.
But still wanting something different than the skin he’s in
Trading fitting in for being truly free men
Playing the part expecting to win, but losing over and over again
I am the corporate slave, indentured to the 9-5 master of endless hours a week,, pushing virtual papers tirelessly just to compete
But still the new, sullen face in the pantry line, desperate and failing simply to make ends meet
I am the lost unemployment statistic, now calling my home that place on the street
I’m the migrant worker picking produce so you all have something to eat
While you tell me I’m not welcome, and call me a rapist on national TV
I am the people, breaking, broken, broke
Yet still hopeful, hoping, hope inspired by little things – small victories in the lifelong war for me.
Smiling in the gleam of rainbow-flags waving, our first family manifesting the hope and the dream – the sweet, sweet fruits of yesterday’s toil
The yield of my ancestor’s tended soil, their endless toil now fueling me
But their work never ending, now endlessly working me
Because we continue fighting to be free, since America still isn’t free to me
We see in every broken barrier one more opportunity
But fall in every hidden pothole made to keep us from destiny
We feel our creativities driving the pulse of our globalized identity
While feeling suffocated, usurped and robbed of any upward mobility
Despite the empty promises of equality through conformity
Freedom granted to all, unless you’re like me
Why can’t I be me yet still be free?
People like me? Black? Brown? Queer? Can we be free?
What about those detained by I-C-E?
Or the new human capital in modern day slavery?
Building the prison industrial complex into our new global economy?
Those working maximum schedules for minimum pay, that can’t afford family dinner at the end of the day?
What about the kids cast away, because they were simply born this way?
Those whose parents put the word of a book over the life that they made, without a second look?
The girl whose only option for an honest day’s pay, is stroking a john at the end of his shitty day – because when she goes for interviews they whisper “she doesn’t look the right way, she’s probably a mister.”
For all the marches made
For all the elections won
And the times that we sang “We shall overcome”
For all of the chants for equality and pride
For the fists in the air, and the fighters outside, for the blood, for the pain, for the lives
For all of the facebook debates, pithy memes, shade, side-eyes and twitter beefs
And those working for justice causing chaos in the streets
The millions who are broke, disenchanted and tired of wanting, waiting to be free
Not able to pay their light bill with the little change we’ve seen.
Please, oh please let America be America, finally.
The land that still has yet to be
But still must be – where all people are free
The land that’s ours – the land that’s too of the poor, the black, the queer, the land for me!
Place in this “land of opportunity” built by our forefathers, the legacy left, the pathway cleared
The land protected by men and women who died in war,
Many of whom were just like me – black, brown, queer, just hoping to be free
We are the controllers of our destiny
It’s up to us to turn change into opportunity, hope into reality
We must now demand “Let America be!”
Sure, call me nigger, fag, cocksucker or wussy queen
Verbal venom is not poison, but fuel to me
Make your laws and rules, keep your spaces elite
Your systemic oppressive norms are just targets for me to seek
Continue to beat me; by hand, custom or speak
Physical and emotional pain but opportunity to identify what’s weak
From those who use fear, power, money and greed
As tools to cloud our destiny, to be free, truly free –
From them, we must take back our beautiful country,
Time now to make ourselves free.