When we are born, you whisper into our purple ears: you are American. The three of us, each six months apart, raised by sister-mothers who’ll never be accepted as American even though you take a test that says you are. But you will never be questioned, you promise us.
At home, we thicken our t’s and d’s and thin out the r’s. But in class, the three of us – we Americans – we recite the Pledge of Allegiance clearer than anyone else; we don’t stumble over “indivisible.” Though you show us that our things, not just our words, make us American. We eat Jif peanut butter sandwiches, stuff them in our Jansports, run with Sketcher-ed feet, make a mess with our Crayolas and tiny Polly Pockets. You won’t let anyone doubt we belong. For good measure, you pack us Lunchables, the real ones, on Fridays.
But once a year, you send us off to our grandparents for six weeks, where it’s hot, where there are cockroaches and lizards, where our restless bodies keep us up at night. Where we gift Hershey bars, Planter’s cashews, Macy’s towels, Kraft macaroni and cheese. As many things as it takes to prove that your journey West was worth it. You pack and repack until it all fits.
We grumble because you tell us there’s no room for our own things, like our Gameboys and American Girl Dolls. They’ll get lost on the plane, stolen by the help, make it harder to bargain if noticed. At least try to spend time with Ajja and Amama, you tell us. Learn something about your culture. And then we grumble some more because we thought we already had one.
The three of us – the Amreekan grandchildren, the neighbors say – we spend those six weeks hanging off the living room couch watching the fan swish hot air around us. The faulty click of the blades keep the mosquitos away. We trade off asking questions about this place. Why does the toothpaste taste like leaves? Why does the milk get wrinkly skin? Why does the power get cut every day? Why do the outlets look like dominos? Our grandparents pretend not to hear us. We flip through channels ‘til we find a Disney Channel show dubbed in strange English. We once found out that Ajja and Amama pretend not to know English. You asked them to do that.
One day, Amama comes out of the store room with a tub of Tang. The three of us – we know that neon orange well. It doesn’t belong to this place. We demand to know how it arrived here. She doesn’t answer, simply spoons the powder into three steel glasses and pushes them towards us. We guzzle the liquid, let sugar-syrup streak our cheeks. Lick the edges of the glass like flies. Press our fingers to the moistened clumps at the bottom and then to our lips. As if to prove that yes, we are still American.
REEMA RAO-PATEL –Reema is a West-Indian American writer whose stories have appeared in Popshot Quarterly, Moot Point Magazine, Pigeon Review & elsewhere, as well as longlisted for The Masters Review 2022 Summer Short Story Award. She is an alum of the American Short Fiction and Key West Literary Seminar workshops. Currently, Reema splits her time working on a short story collection, reading fiction for Split Lip Magazine, and teaching her dog to roll over.
Art by OLADOSU MICHAEL EMERALD — Oladosu (he/him) is an art editor at Surging Tide magazine, a poet, a writer, a digital/musical/visual artist, and a political scientist. His works have been published or forthcoming in many magazines and won numerous awards in writing and art; few to mention: Better Than Starbucks, Undivided Magazine, Feral, Afrocritik, Necro Magazine, Spill word web, Paper Lantern Lit, The Maul Magazine, Zoetic, penumbric, Native Skin, Nymph, Naija Reader’s Buffet, Terror House Magazine, Spring word web, Third Estate Art Magazine, The Hearth Magazine, Kalonipa, and elsewhere. Say hi to him on Twitter @garricologist, and Instagram @emerald_arts1.