4th of July Confession
Fine, America, I’ll tell you my secret:
although I have betrayed history
and abandoned homeland to live
with you for over two decades now,
I can still sing all the words
to the Philippine national anthem by heart.
Bayang magiliw, Perlas ng Silanganan
Alab ng puso, sa dibdib mo’y buhay.
Yes, the melody still returns me
to the simple happiness of my childhood,
to my old Antipolo neighborhood
where during summer the children played
our patintero street games well into
the darkened sky, while loving neighbors
kept watch under thousands
of stars and the moon, cheering
and laughing loudly along
the bougainvillea-lined terraces.
But calm down, please.
America, I choose you.
Yes you’re right I still can’t sing
“The Star-Spangled Banner” in its entirety
but cut me some slack —
how can I learn something that only divas
with Whitney Houston’s vocal range can sing?
Even the lowest key would be too high,
plus I was an asthmatic kid anyway
so I never did have strong lungs
to begin with. And besides, America,
voice lessons just got to be too expensive.
Why must you be so demanding?
At least I haven’t given up yet
on struggling to learn Vladimir Horowitz’s
transcription of “Stars and Stripes Forever”
on the piano. Yes, I know it’s taking me
long enough, but the piccolo part is a killer!
And have you seen Horowitz’s huge gorilla hands?
Of all the things that had to be small
in my big round body it had to be
my puny palms! Oh, it sucks,
how it sucks, America, that I wasn’t
born with more talent, more skill,
more God-given natural abilities
to please and honor you
by realizing the big dreams
we have been dreaming together.
And even if I know you’re thinking it,
please don’t say that I’ll never be
a true American. Say you’ll love me
and take care of me like a parent would
of any child, even if I’m only adopted,
even if you won’t amend your Constitution
and let me at least have a crack at becoming
president one day. Can’t you see, America,
I’m really trying here! I’m doing the best
that I can to live honestly and make a better
living, even if I’ll never make it to Hollywood
or be on TV. Even if you play favorites.
I’ll still keep trying. And I’ll still be
waiting, America, I’ll be waiting for you
to choose me.
Abigail Licad immigrated from the Philippines with her family at age 13. She was naturalized as an American citizen in 2000. She is still struggling to understand the full import of her naturalization oath to “absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty,” and to question how this affects her relationship to her historical past and beloved childhood home.