Since a very early age, I’ve had to apologize for any kind of patriotism I’ve felt naturally inclined to express. “Mamita, you’re not Dominican; you were born in the States.” “Loca, why do you call yourself Puerto Rican? Your family came here from the Dominican Republic when you were eight.” “Welcome to the Ivy League. Where are you from? You can't be American. I mean, you have an accent, and, like, look at you.”
Wow. Yeah. Look at me. For a while, I thought they were right. I should shut up. My saying I belong in this place is offensive to those who’ve spent their whole lives here and whose skin and blood wave one clear flag. And so I adopted a culture of silence and confusion. I made out of “I don’t really know where I’m from” my introductory phrase, I’d feel self-conscious about singing any national anthem, and I must’ve changed my Facebook Hometown at least twenty times before beginning to realize that perhaps my feelings were also valid.
I’ve lived my entire life being told that I don’t belong where I find myself, and it took a lot of walking within the narrow limbos between nationalities to realize that repressing my sense of love for each piece of earth that held me was not only unfair but also unnecessary.
I was born an immigrant. Many of us were; many of us turned it. But all of us have, at one point or another, felt a sense of belonging somewhere, even if it has only lasted one brief, majestic moment. Why neglect this wondrous instant? Why negate us immigrants such an integral part of our humanity? Any living, breathing person knows that feeling connected to something larger than themselves is a very precious, very elevating, very necessary experience, and, for those of us who've spent our lives adjusting to a new place, it is also a fragile flame, not to be put out nor repressed. It is to be celebrated. Enjoyed. Recognized. Shared.
I have roots in three places. Three places have blessed me with space to grow. My heart is not fickle; it’s just happily stretched out across the sea. And today it celebrates Dominican Independence with the reverberating words of my great-great-grandfather Gastón Fernando Deligne, national poet of Dominican Republic:
“¡Que linda en el tope estás,
¡Quién te viera, quién te viera,
más arriba, mucho más!”
[You look so beautiful at the top,
Who would see you, who would see you,
higher up, so much higher!]
Well, I’m looking at you, Dominican flag, and with my Puerto Rican slang and my American passport... I, too, see you.