Am I American?

Good question.

Being an American is something I regularly joke about with my group of close-knit friends: “Gotta love guns!” “Freedom!” “Apple Pie!” “‘merican flags errwhere!” Stuff like that. I even own a bro tank with an American flag on it, with quotes on it saying “Back to Back World War Champs” surrounding it. I often wear it along with my American flag chubbies on occasions where I need to look “American” (we used to have a hype day when I was touring around the country called “Freedom Friday.”)

The problem is that this is actually what a lot of Americans think what being American is. It is a very pro-patriotic sense of discrimination against those who do not fit the status quo. My really great friend Mahmud would never pass as “American” because he is a second generation Arab. He is in all actuality one of the most American men I’ve met. He loves celebrating freedom and diversity, but in an ironic twist he is seen as extremely un-American by doing so.

So I still haven’t answered yet, “what do I think it means to be American?” In a way, there is not a sure fire standard of measurement to being an American in my eyes. But there are definitely a lot of nonnegotiables:

  1. A sense of community of all people, regardless of people’s background, orientation, nationality, and religion.
  2. A sense of nationalistic pride that promotes equality of all peoples.
  3. The promotion of equality for all peoples regardless of religion, politics, ideologies and genders.
  4. The dream that all people can get along through negotiation and debate rather than by war and violence.

These in my view are what it truly means to be an American. We do not need to promote hatred and bigotry in order to gain a superiority over those who we see as inferior.

Am I an American? In my sense, yes I am. I truly believe we can get along and live as brothers and sisters in arms.

Yes we can.

My Adventure

My adventure took place back during 2015. I auditioned for the Santa Clara Vanguard Drum and Bugles Corps based in Santa Clara, California for the third year, and finally made the horn line after numerous failed auditions. I was beyond ecstatic to join an organization I had dreamed of being a part of ever since my freshman year in marching band!

For those who don’t know much about the activity, the Santa Clara Vanguard is a part of the Drum Corps International competition that takes place every summer from June through August. Many people pack up their lives in May to travel around the United States for 3 months away from family, friends and loved ones sleeping on gym floors, working outside for 12+ hours a day in the summer heat. The best luxury during the tour is sleeping (either on the bus that you travel on at night or on the gym floor), eating (you eat four times a day, and you still lose weight due to the increased physical activity), and time where you do nothing (you have three four-hour blocks of rehearsal time with an hour to eat in between.)

Still not satisfied? Then you have to address the cost of participation. Yes, it is a professional organization. No, you don’t get paid. Yes, you can write it on a resume. No, it is not inexpensive. To participate, the Santa Clara Vanguard asks each of its members to pay a small fee of $3500 a summer. You have opportunities to pay it off in chunks, but the financial burden of being in college, paying bills, and flying out and participating in mandatory monthly camps in San Jose, CA makes this a steep weight to burden.

Then you go on tour. You spend six to eight weeks working on unifying the corps and learning your twelve minute field production to be judged throughout the season. You work anywhere from 12-15 hours a day trying to perfect a show that in theory will never be perfect; picking out the tiniest little detail to achieve perfection. One step, one note on your instrument, one catch could mean the difference between 1st and 2nd place. And yes, it has happened before (one year there was a .025 difference between 1st and 2nd.)

Overall, it sounds like a miserable experience, and to a point it is. I can’t count on my hands how many times I’ve wanted to break down crying during the summer due to the physical and mental stress your peers, teachers, and instructors put on you day in and day out. But it is also the same people that help you realize your true potential. We help each work through our problems and make each other stronger. I still have friends I made during that season around the world that I still talk to on a daily basis. This adventure was probably the toughest and most rewarding journey I have ever been apart of.

 

Danzon No. 2

While this may not be the typical “museum” that comes to mind, I had the rare opportunity to watch the Los Angeles Philharmonic via livestream perform the iconic work for orchestra, Danzon No. 2 by Mexican composer Arturo Marquez.

As a musician, I personally work in concert halls, stage venues, and auditoriums to create artwork. A concert for a musician is basically like a museum for a painter. In a way, the only difference is how we decide to create our art.

The piece listed was popularized by many conductors, and one of them has become a social media craze by one of Mexico’s most acclaimed conductors, Alondra de la Parra. She is seen rehearsing the L’Orchestra de Paris halfway through the piece, and is seen really getting into the music itself trying to make it come alive for those who will be seated in the audience for the big performance.

While the performance of this piece is great, the reality behind it is still a very sad story to tell. Most people have either: a) no idea who the composer is, b) have limited knowledge of the classical side of Latin American composers, and/or c) any combination of the above in different ratios. What is the problem? There are several factors at play.

As suggested in Marti’s essay, “Our America,” most people would simply rather choose to assimilate into Western Caucasian culture for fear of rejection. Any kind of folk music setting to this day is seen as “low brow” or “children’s concerts” for many leading orchestras, and only focus on pieces that have been cited in Western culture for being “iconic” (i.e. Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, etc.)

What we ought to focus on is what Gary Soto celebrates in his short story, “Like Mexicans.” We should celebrate cultural identity not because it makes us a whole person; it is who we are. There should be more pieces like the Marquez Danzon performed more frequently, and there should be more conductors like de la Parra leading major symphony orchestras (she has a lot going against her because of heritage and being a woman, but that’s another blog post for a different day.)

We shouldn’t fear differences in culture, and we should never assimilate for the fear of rejection.

Video credit: Orchestra de Paris youtube.com

Picture credit: Arturo Marquez conducts Miami University Symphony Orchestra

 

The Secret Life of Bees

The Secret Life of Bees is a film adaptation of the award winning novel by the same name by Sue Monk Kidd. The film is directed by Gina Prince-Blythewood. The film is set in South Carolina in 1964, where the main character Lily Owens (played by Dakota Fanning) flees her abusive father with her caregiver Rosaleen (played by Jennifer Hudson). They find sanctuary at the house of the Boatwright sisters. There Lily learns the true horrors of racism, segregation, and comes to terms with the dark secret of her past. Overall, the film connects well with the short story, “Like a Winding Sheet” by Ann Petry.

 

In one of the opening scenes of the film, Lily and Rosaleen go into town to buy Lily a training bra for her 14th birthday. Along the way, they come along three racist white men who openly mock Rosaleen, who is an African American. She retaliates by pouring her drink on one of the men’s shoes, and they beat her up and is later arrested. This parallels the treatment of Johnson in Ann Petry’s “Like a Winding Sheet.” The growing conflict arises due to several encounters with these men prior to the start of the movie (the book alludes to this fact; however, the movie itself does not.) Each time they exchange encounters, the tension between the men and Rosaleen intensifies until it reaches its boiling point. Even though the tension never escalated to the point where Rosaleen reacted in the way Johnson did to Mae, the racial frustration building is ever so much present.

Additionally, the film climaxes around the suicide of May, who struggles to see the differences between the concerns of the world against her own. Her fragile mental state causes her to become extremely remorseful to the slightest bit of grief. When she discovers that her neighbor’s son has been kidnapped due to him sitting with Lily in the colored section of a movie theater, she decides to spend some time at her coping place for a while. She is found having drowned herself in the shallow part of the river near her house. Her actions were caused by the racism around her, and took its toll on her psyche. Her reaction almost parallels Johnson in the end of the story.

The Secret Life of Bees. Dir. Gina Prince-Blythewood. Perf. Dakota Fanning, Queen Latifah, Jennifer Hudson, Alicia Keys. Fox Searchlight Pictures, 2008. Film.

Petry, Ann. “Like a Winding Sheet.” N.p.: n.p., n.d. 1496-504. Web.