Sometimes, when my mother and I are standing at a security checkpoint in middle America they’ll pull us over and search our luggage—digging through my underwear and that tatty shirt with the paint stains I should have probably thrown out three years ago, looking for what I presume is evidence of a bomb. They’ll open my mother’s jewelry boxes and touch the rounded points and the fake rubies and diamonds, bringing the necklace she bought for two dollars up to their eyes as they try to find a clue that will tell them of our deceit. They’ll take one look at our skin color, the black hair we’ve each tied up into a ponytail. They’ll look at our passports, the ones that pledge our allegiance to the flag of the United States of America.
All they’ll ever see are the names that they can’t pronounce from a country that they probably can’t find on a map, and two people from a heist that brought their (our) country to its knees.
Eventually they’ll grow bored of swabbing the inside of our carry-ons, tired of running tests that reveal no secret compartments or illegal drugs, but rather more underwear than we know what to do with, and a particularly expensive sari my mother didn’t want to risk losing in the depths of the Cleveland Hopkins Airport.
Eventually they’ll let us go, far later than the old white couple that sniffed disdainfully as they walked past, far later than the soldier in his camouflage that seemed to take our presence as a personal affront. It takes more than a little effort on my part not to go running after them, screaming the preamble of the Constitution we all hold so dear in the accent that identifies me as one of them.
One of us. Because every July I help my father hang up the flag of our country, smoothing down the cloth as I trace the stars and stripes of the only country I will ever call home.
Not that they’d ever know that. No, all they see is the brown – the eyes and the hair, and all they expect the thick, rolling accent of the men the broadcast news uses to terrify the rest of us into submission. The men and women of the Transportation Security Administration that swore to protect this country of theirs (mine) never once realizing that I am one of the citizens supposed to be hiding behind their shields, instead of being dragged out to rot in their containment cells.
I am an American before I am anything else, a citizen of a country forged in the blood of millions of immigrants that lattice together in fervor and hope and dreams. I am an American that sits on a blanket every Independence Day to watch fireworks that burst to the tune of my anthem, an American that lost a month’s sleep when I became old enough to comprehend the way the Twin Towers fell. I am an American that owes my blood and sweat to the country that tells me it will protect me to the utmost of its ability, solely based on the fact that I was born on its soil.
I am an American before I am Indian, before I am a Hindu. I am the daughter of immigrants who have become Americans, the sister of an American. I speak no other languages, I think no other thoughts, and when I go to the airport I am looked over once, twice, thrice and deemed a disgrace to the passport I carry.
Sometimes, when my mother and I are standing at a security checkpoint in middle America they’ll pull us over and search our luggage, and I’ll realize that for all that I am American, I will always just be a traitor to them.
Maya Murthy is a junior at Monta Vista High School in Cupertino California, where she writes for her school newspaper and literary magazine. In her admittedly limited spare time, she sings Carnatic music and sometimes can be found walking the family dog.