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We Were All Strangers

by Julia Wu

(Sections in bold are taken from President Donald Trump’s Inaugural Address.)

We, the citizens of America, are now joined in a great national effort to rebuild our country and to restore its promise for all of our people. Ma wasn’t a dreamer. She came to this Beautiful Country for a lot of things—for a master’s degree, for birthing an American, for less polluted skies—but she’d never call those things a dream. That her words called this place Beautiful Country told me all I needed to know about it, though. When I was small, Ba came home every night with a Pizza Hut polo and ballcap on and swore to me that he did not work at Pizza Hut. Then when he opened his computer store a few years later, he would say, “Do you remember when you thought I worked at Pizza Hut? I own a business,” as if he always had and always would. As if that was the American dream, was him snatching the promise with his own bare hands.

The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer. It’s funny the way we forget some things. Sometimes we forget just by not remembering. I forget about the ones in China everyday until I remember them. They probably forget about me, too. I saw Ma and Ba’s China first when I was nine months old; Ma and Ba had meant to leave me there but couldn’t see it through because of all the dirt flying around everywhere, they said. They’d even brought a year’s worth of American diapers with them, so I might be spared from the coarser sides of China. But they didn't leave me, not for good. Ma still came home to Beautiful Country first, and when Ba brought me back some time after, I had forgotten her, she says. I live in a piece of

Beautiful Country that is forgotten I think. I didn’t know it for a long time because of course we remember each other, and when all of you remember, you don’t realize there are others who are forgetting you as you breathe. Forgetting our mines and our factories and our faces. Most of the faces here are paleish. Not unlike the ones outside of our mountains, but their voices are different here and so are their ideas, and they are forgotten. We forget people here too, though. We forget the ones we grabbed the land from, the ones who worked the land before us, the ones for whom this is a second land, like Ma and Ba. They are forgetting us here, and we are forgetting them, those men and women of our country.

At the center of this movement is a crucial conviction: that a nation exists to serve its citizens. Ma and Ba finally got their papers when I was ten. I remember teaching them the Pledge of Allegiance: “...with liberty and justice for all,” they echoed after me in their slanted English. Also when I was ten, I learned about the establishment of the Club. Megan and I started a new one every day, handing out passwords and privileges to our members. But the best part of each club was who we got to keep out. It couldn’t be a club if we let everyone in. In Ma’s first trip to the voting poll, she cast a ballot for Obama because she liked the idea of change. We didn’t talk about presidents again ‘til I was casting ballots, too, and this time she told me she liked the Donald Trump guy. Liked that he wasn’t going to let just anyone in this country. This Beautiful Country, her own little club, setting her apart from all the others who hadn't made it.

It’s a strange thing, making it. It’s a strange thing, privilege. To burrow in deep enough to keep others out. To serve and serve until the roles reverse. A nation exists to serve its citizens. It wouldn’t be a nation if we let everyone in.

When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice. I was small and singing about America, singing about my country. How somebody’s fathers died here, and how some pilgrims were proud. Then I was singing about how this land is your land, and this land is my land, and how it was made for you and me. But then I was reading about how this land was their land, how this land was taken, and I thought maybe this land isn’t anybody’s land. I pledged my allegiance to a flag every day but there’s another flag that flies around here sometimes. Red, white, and blue, with a big X in the middle. The forgotten men and women of our country wave it around, pleading to be heard. Some call it their brand of patriotism. They call it culture, they call it heritage. They call it all they have because this America sure doesn’t look like it’s saving a spot for them either. It isn’t patriotism that removes prejudice. It is the removal of prejudice that breeds patriotism. Not country before person, but person before country.

The Bible tells us, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live in harmony.” The belt of Bible runs right through the hills of my forgotten piece of America. These edifices of God are our most versatile buildings. Used for dying, used for marrying, used for Girl Scouts on Tuesdays, used for playing after school; I never went to church but I spent a lot of time in churches growing up. I grew up in a town run on Bible, I asked the guy Jesus into my heart over grape juice and crackers every single day because have you heard what happens if you don’t? I grew up in a town run on Bible, but not the one about the guy Jesus. Maybe the one they had back when they had slaves, the one that said this was okay, having slaves. The Bible tells us, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live in harmony.” This is good; this is true. The Bible also tells us to watch for wolves in sheep’s clothing. The Bible also tells us, “‘Cursed be anyone who perverts the justice due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.” The Bible also tells us, “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking.” The Bible also tells us, “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong...for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” We were all strangers.

There should be no fear—we are protected and we will always be protected. I always knew the surest way to safety was to find the safe ones and side with them. Ma and Ba talked too funny to be taken in, but I had a fighting chance. They say the ones with the paleish faces have power coursing through their very veins, coded in their very DNA. But when you’re on the lowest rung of the paleish folks’ rope of power, and the only ones lower than you are the ones with colors in their faces, nobody’s safe. I washed the color off my face, but I couldn’t wash it out of my blood. I told them I was one of them, but I didn’t realize I was asking to pretend to be something that I was. I was one of them, and I was not. I was self, and I was other. These mountains were other. All of us here in the forgotten: other. It’s awfully silly to tell anyone they will always be protected. Maybe safety shouldn’t be the thing we’re after.

And whether a child is born in the urban sprawl of Detroit or the windswept plains of Nebraska, they look up at the same night sky, they fill their heart with the same dreams, and they are infused with the breath of life by the same almighty Creator. I’ve never seen Detroit or Nebraska, but I’ve seen the night sky. Ba looked at the moon on the night I was born, bright in the New Orleans sky, that could’ve been any sky, and he named me for the bright orb that reminded him of home. Home, which was here now, which was there then, which could shift

across oceans and time zones, but which the moon, the night sky, would always find. The same Maker of the sky would find me anywhere. Maker of the sky, Maker of me, Maker of the child born in the urban sprawl of Shanghai or the windswept plains of Tanzania, and we, all of us, are infused with the breath of life by the same almighty Creator.

And, Yes, Together, We Will Make America Great Again.

Works Cited

The Bible. English Standard Version, Crossway Bibles, 2016.

Trump, Donald. “Inaugural Address.” The White House. Washington, D.C. 20 January 2017.