Earlier tonight, while I was savoring the deliciousness of Miami River newcomer Dashi, a friend asked me about yesterday's Washington D.C. travel diary. Specifically, he wanted to know why I felt such a strong sense of patriotism considering that I only recently became a U.S. citizen and that, thanks to my middle class Mexican upbringing, the U.S. didn't exactly represent salvation from war, famine or drought. As a red-blooded American, he connected with my excitement over visiting the "gathering spaces that have witnessed our government behind the scenes for over a century". And, after reading my post, he was curious to understand how a foreign-born person like me could channel the undying love he has for his country and its history so perfectly.
Fueled by a delicious lychee/raspberry cocktail, my response to his question was mostly stream-of-consciousness—no overthinking, no hesitation, no calculation. Somehow it was spot on. I think it's because for the last 10 years since I received my green card and more so since I applied for citizenship, I have been on an on-going quest to define my identity as it relates to my nationality. I have been struggling to reconcile my decision to surrender my Mexican citizenship in exchange for an American one and trying to define my connection to this country for most of my life. Even now, two years after leading a group of 40 in the Oath of Allegiance during my naturalization ceremony, I still struggle between the desire to preserve my Mexican identity (my chilanga accent, my family's cultural traditions) and the desire to fully embrace my American pride.
|Celebrating my newly acquired citizenship in 2014.|
|Showing off my brand new U.S. passport on Instagram.|
Don't get me wrong. I am extremely grateful to be a part of and, more importantly, to contribute to the success of our nation—particularly knowing there are so many people literally dying for the opportunity I was given. The American pride? It's definitely there. The emotions stirred by my D.C. trip, as sensed by my friend, are a testament of its strong presence. So, what fueled my unmistakeable sense of patriotism during my visit?
I attribute it primarily to three factors:
- The big picture. If you focus on the big picture, American history is a story of hope and progress. Yes, over centuries the political pendulum has swung left and right to the dismay of this group or that group, but over time the country is moving forward. Think of it like a 401(k). Sometimes your account makes money and sometimes your account loses money but, in the long run, your investments are likely to appreciate. (D.C. is like the New York Stock Exchange of the American Dream.) That's why people like me want to live here. That's why we've worked so hard to earn the right to live here.
- America's global power. Political decisions made in the U.S. have far reaching implications, more so than those made in other countries. The seemingly idle conversation happening in the cafeteria as I walked through the Russell Senate Office building basement has the potential to change lives in another continent. The environmental policy banter I overheard while sipping my almond milk latte at Pleasant Pops can define our planet's future. It's intoxicating. To quote Frank Underwood, "Power is a lot like real estate. It's all about location, location, location. The closer you are to the source, the higher your property value."
- An abundance of history. Miami is a city very much in its infancy. Yes, we have history (and a colorful one at that) but we just can't compare to D.C. It was exhilarating to be surrounded by centuries worth of landmarks that were the backdrop to the events that made our country what it is today. While there, I was able to recall the stories that previously only lived in the pages of my 7th grade Civics textbook—the serious ones like the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the silly ones like President John Quincy Adams' daily nude swims in the Potomac. Just being in D.C. made the American story more palpable and made me feel more connected to a history, which for most of my life was not truly mine.
My trip to D.C. may not have resolved my national identity crisis. I can't pick a favorite country, just like a parent can't pick a favorite child. I love Mexico, I love the U.S. and I love them both for different reasons. Nevertheless, it made me (and others, apparently) more aware of just how much I love the U.S. and that's what I love about traveling. Travel is not only about seeking new and fun experiences, but it's also about getting to know yourself better through those experiences. This month's D.C. trip did both.