In today’s America where white nationalist match in the streets with tiki torches and scream “Jews will not replace us”, immigrant Americans like myself who happen to be non-white can sometimes wonder if we made the right choice. More and more it appears America is still struggling with its identity as the multi-cultural global melting pot that has been marketed worldwide. I may not be completely right on my previous statement. What I need to really say is, some white Americans are struggling with that identity.
I came to the United States as a foreign student almost 2 decades ago. Sometime between my arrival and today I became American. The truth is, I can clearly tell you to the minute the moment I became American officially but as to when I really became American I actually have multiple stories and nowadays I had been thinking more and more about that. Sometimes I am not sure if I was really right about this, am I really American or am I really telling myself a lie. The truth is these questions have almost no relationship with how I feel within but more to do with how certain situations that I have experienced or heard from other non-white immigrants on what it really means to be American.
In my own psyche being American is a sense of belonging and I first felt this feeling of belonging to this country on returning back to the US after my first trip home to Ghana after completing my course of study. I can still remember driving with friends on the ramp onto MD Route 195 and knowing that I was home. From that moment on, I knew this was my home and my other home in Ghana would only be my birth country. I know some of my Ghanaian friends and colleagues may be saying in their mind “traitor”. The truth though is there is no treachery in that. For many of us, our names, religious beliefs, cultural and social norms and nationality where handed down to us by our parents. Fortunately, life offers all us, opportunities to examine these gifts and use them to create who we want to be.
Being an immigrant American though does carry with it some form of imposter syndrome. On paper I am American but do I really feel American? Here I would throw in a curved ball because the day I first felt American was around 9:00 am on 9/11/2001, more than 7 years before I swore my oath of allegiance. On that fateful day, I left one class and entered the students lounge at the School of Public Health in Hopkins and saw the “movie” of planes flying into the World Trade Center on a TV that had somehow found its way into the hallway. Amid several unsuccessfully attempts to reach my brother whose office was a few blocks away from those buildings I knew that if a terrorist wanted to kill Americans I would be American to them. That was the day I knew that my choice to make this country my home made me American irrespective of how I feel. On that day the 9/11 terrorist made me American.
On official forms I usually check African American because being black in America would eventually get you to identify both culturally and politically as African American. America is a great country that offers a lot of choices and opportunities to its people but sometimes it may appear that those choices and opportunities appear to only begrudgingly offered to Black Americans. I know that some would disagree with the inequality of opportunity by race but in this month of February which is Black History month all I need to say is remember “Forty acres and a mule”. America as a nation has got a long way to go with its cultural and ethnically diverse melting pot. This journey would not be in any manner be dependent on our leadership or our members of congress but by the people of this country.
Together America would conquer because as President William Jefferson Clinton said “There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured with what is right in America”
By Dr. Leonard Sowah, an internal medicine physician in Baltimore, Maryland