The World Doesn’t Have to End Tomorrow
It doesn’t matter who wins. I conclude, passively following images of our election from Canada, surrounded by folks who aren’t as heavily invested in the play-by-play drama and won’t need to live the daily reality of consequences to unfold.
I never experienced an identity crisis, but I can try to break this down for you.
Our states have been experiencing a cultural identity crisis since their conception. Have we forgotten their age? Do we remember the conditions that led a collection of colonialists on the eastern coastline to claim a name for itself on a landmass already occupied by an array of rich cultures?
What are “we,” but the afterbirth of what was born in rebellion, settlers deciding neither option of returning home nor compliance with the motherland were preferable? Whatever set of feelings or non-feelings evoked by the word “colonial” speak to your relationship with the land, this expansive cultural force, and our current conditions.
Apparently, it’s old news the way 13 states became 50. Some of us remember discussing Manifest Destiny in history, though narrow in scope as “American” is made synonymous with “The United States.”
I think “we” are adorable, young we are, working incessantly to further the evolution of our political system, so it may one day reflect an ability to peacefully coexist in all our diversity.
Live free or die trying.
It doesn’t matter who wins because we will still be in the wonder years of this colonial experiment.
Here I am, sitting among the pews as organ music vibrates the nave of Notre Dame in Montreal, Quebec. I attend Sunday mass, agreeing to deafly participate 1.5 hours in French. Tacky red, blue, and green paint sweep what could have been clean lines to your basic basilica, along with speckled gold stars arranged not unlike the décor of a traveling circus, but with Jesus, prophets, and saints headlining the attractions.
The stained glass windows draw my attention most, depicting interaction between the indigenous and missionaries, something I have never seen before. I notice the aisle path leading up to the pulpit displays an assortment of organic, geometric shapes liken to native weaving patterns, incongruent with the decor of the vault above. How suggestive. Who paved the path for whom?
An incredible wave of nausea and sadness overcomes me. There is a list of federally recognized First Nations in Quebec and there are ongoing public statements of reparation, but I have not been here long enough to sense impact beyond encounters with miniature dancing bears and extensive moccasin collections in souvenir shops.
The experience of the indigenous on stained glass cuts deeply into my Vietnamese-Catholic upbringing, an intimately insidious intertwining of culture. Does my presence in this church signifiy a French colonial project more successful than “ours?” Or does it mostly represent the might of the Roman Catholic church? I refrain from delving into the implications of writing, speaking, and thinking in the English language. Who really wins here?
Like I said, I never experienced an identity crisis. I am not alone in this process of acceptance, that perception from others will misalign with perception of self, and my closest associations are among those who similarly exist on blurred lines of identity.
My friends are familiar with the sensations that surface when the tongue of your ancestors is butchered in jest, you expect some ratio of inquisitiveness and mistrust conveyed in glances no matter where you go, and there is a pause that follows when you tell a stranger where you’re from.
“You don’t look like you’re from California.”
Tell me what a native Californian looks like. Tell me what a native American looks like.
Whatever you think is America is not really America. Few of us inherently belong here. None of us really have a choice. Yet despite our disheartening moments, we are still trying.
Consider that if you require a set of map coordinates, you wield a certain power to traverse, to detonate, or to nurture territorial grounds. Whoever you are, you exist as an intersection of cultural influence with imaginary borders drawn up for the convenience of navigation, necessary for the purpose of exchange and the potential of expansion.
What is it you wish to exchange? Who benefits from the result of your expansion? How will you choose to relate to this land among the people who currently occupy it with you?
Dearest friends, it'll be okay. The world does not have to end tomorrow. There are people throughout all states, all territories, all coordinates who exist in hybrid form, who live in a world without borders and who partake in navigation from the heart.
Evolution takes a long, long time. Trust we are in it for the long-run.