What Does America Mean To You? by Fatimata Cham

imageWhat Does America Mean To You?
by Fatimata Cham

America to me was never red, white and blue. America to me was not the free country we all make it out to be. America to me in written in my eyes. It’s written in my parents eyes. We are America. I have seen first hand the pain and suffering. I have seen freedom. I have seen everything we make America out to be.

What does America mean to me? America is my past, present and my future.

When Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492 there were already people living here. Because of disease and power their America was taken away. Native Americans died in large numbers and the land they once knew was gone forever and transformed. But this is not much different then what was happening in my motherland, Africa. Home to beauty, gold, jewels, oil- everything this great country was lacking. Europeans came into West Africa and took my people from the only home they knew. They lost their language. From the Mande, to the Kante, to the Soninke they were introduced to this great country. A country I now call my home. Africa was stripped of all it’s resources. My father told me his people had to rebuild, but sadly it would be years before my motherland would be restored.

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What does America mean to me? America is my past, present and future.

Growing up in the South Bronx, we were a middle class family. My parents instilled in us the importance of knowing who we were and the importance of an education. Everyday we would come home from school and study. My father did not allow us to watch television. We went to Arabic school on the weekends and America allowed for us to do this in peace. But that does not mean people did not judge me for simply being who I am. No amount of strength that my father had could protect me from this country that I was growing up in. Throughout American history, people who were different were often times marginalized. I knew this at the age 5, when my mother was in the supermarket and this man approached her and laid his hands on her because she was wearing her niqab. I will never forget that day because it was the day that I knew what it meant to be different. In America we like to think that we celebrate differences, that we are a unifying country, but that is not always the case because we are an imperfect people.

What does America mean to me? The truth is I don’t know. I do not know if it ever meant something to me because of my background. I am Gambian. My parents are from this small island in West Africa. It makes me who I am and those people speak my language. They know my struggles and they know who I am.

America is home to people all different backgrounds, races, religions, ethnicities, genders. The list goes on, but does that mean we are fully accepting of all people? No. America is not home to one group of people because it never was.

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