Intersections – America, the beautiful
By Nicki Salcedo
I am an immigrant. You won’t know this when you see me. You won’t know this when you talk to me. I sound American. It’s hard to tell where I’m from exactly. Even though I say “y’all” all the time, people don’t believe I’m Southern. But I am a Southern Belle. I say that with pride. I’m American. I say that with humble gratitude.
I tell people that I’m an immigrant so they choose their words carefully when they are around me. When someone rails against immigration, they are talking about me. I did not come over illegally. My father attended university in the U.S. long before we came to America. I did not crawl on my belly across a dusty border. We flew on an airplane. I was not taking refuge from war. We were looking for opportunities.
When someone says immigrant, I imagine the weight of all my worldly possessions on my back. I can almost hear the sound of suddenly exploding bombs. I imagine the weight of chains and the taste of salt water at the bottom of a boat. If those immigrants don’t belong in America, then neither do I.
I, too, sing America.
They say the land is full of opportunity, like a field of wild poppies. I believe this. Immigrants know this because they remember the alternative. I don’t remember. We came to America when I was a child.
When we arrived in Georgia, I’d never seen as much green in my life as I saw in Stone Mountain. I like places with names given from the land. There was a granite doom in the distance, but nearby and all around were deep green trees. It is hard for me to think of this place, this state, this country, as anything other than paradise.
There is a Confederate Memorial in the middle of my paradise. I don’t mind history. It only frightens me when we despise it, when we pretend it doesn’t exist. History frightens me when you resurrect it to intimidate me.
I spent most of my youth at the base of the mountain. The face of Stonewall Jackson is etched into the rock. The ghost of this Confederate general did not watch me during my youth. His eyes were turned inward. Like my own eyes. I have always dreamed of the future. History is something to lift me up, not wear me down. Stone Mountain has always been a place of peace for me.
Stone Mountain Park is our favorite place to go. There’s a five mile loop around the mountain. There are nature trails. The park is filled with runners and walkers and cyclists and families pushing strollers. People from every state and every country breathe the same air and say “hello” as they pass.
If you walk for an hour, you will say “hello” for an hour. When I was pregnant we would walk the mountain trying to wake the baby into labor. A full hour of saying “hello” will restore your faith in humanity. You will be grateful.
It is possible that I passed red flags as I walked. I don’t remember. Those flags have not intimidated me until now, but I will not let fear bring history forward.
We had a big beautiful American flag in my childhood home. This is the only flag that matters to me. My parents, the immigrants, taught us the proper handling of it. The flag never stayed out overnight or in the rain. It never ever touched the ground. We cared for the American flag like a wise and old relative.
In seventh grade, we learned the proper way to take the flag off the flagpole and fold it until it was only blue with stars. The flag becomes the sky. The future. Our unity.
Blue sky and the stars. Like a night in Stone Mountain.
I have friends who often hike to the top of the mountain. They acknowledge that the journey is a pilgrimage of the spirit and not exercise. At the top, you can see the world. From above, we are a people of swimming pools and baseball fields and trees. You cannot see any division from above. You can’t see any flags below.
When my father died, these two friends climbed to the top of mountain and said a prayer for him. They didn’t know my dad. They just knew how much I was hurting and how much I loved that place and how much my dad valued prayer. They took a picture of the view. A view I’ve seen a hundred times in my life. It makes you feel small and insignificant. So are our ragings.
We are quiet at the top. There is a spirit that hushes us. No flag can own us.
I remind myself it isn’t my job to right the world’s wrongs. Not all of them. Weren’t we given direction in a song?
Crown thy good with brotherhood.
What America needs more than anything is silence.
Nicki Salcedo is a Decatur resident and Atlanta native. She is a novelist, blogger, and a working mom. Her column, Intersections, runs every Wednesday morning.