Being an obvious Ausländer, I am constantly answering the “Where are you from?” question in Germany, to which I respond, “America.” The double take that always follows thereafter prompts me to caveat with, “but my grandparents are Latino.”
This experience, however, is not so different from being in the U.S. Do Europeans know what it’s like being non-white in the U.S.?
My grandfather’s immigration to the United States in the late 60’s seems to be the single defining moment of my identity – an imposed identity. The fact that my parents were born and raised in New York, the fact that I was born and raised in New York, is not enough. It doesn’t explain why I am not white, why I am not like them.
I am Dominican – by contrast.
“But you sound white,” they say, as if complimenting me, hinting at their approval. I am not like those other Latinos.
For my grandparents, the Trujillato Dominican Republic is a heavy past, one that they escaped. I am completely ignorant of this history, yet somehow am forcibly dominated by it. For me, the Dominican Republic is not a nostalgia, it’s not a possibility, it’s not a future, it’s not a home.
When I visit my grandfather’s homeland I am a Gringo, I don’t know the music, my Spanish isn’t good enough. I am too fino, too first-world. “I sound white.”
I am American – by contrast.
Too Dominican to be American. Too American to be Dominican.
Naturally, one would think that the Dominican-American community, the other Latinos, would accept me, but when I speak, they shake their heads: “But you sound white.”
In Trump’s America, what little sense of belonging I might have had seems to have been lost. The fight carried by those before me, those who had not even their names, appears to have been done in vain.
So what are we, the non-European Americans, supposed to do? Our heritage lands are as foreign to us as Italy is to DiCaprio, as Germany is to Drumpf. What does it mean for me to say I am from America, if in America I cannot be American? When our own neighbors have made it clear that they do not want us.
I have been forced my entire academic career to pledge my allegiance, to sing with pride, to be proud. But in the nation’s highest office sits a climate change denier, an Islamophobe, a misogynist, a bully. I am not proud.
The America my grandfather came to has become his new past – one in which he luckily passed. I am now left in the new America, the one with rhetoric of the wall, with the executive orders.
I am demoralized, I am bereaved, I am betrayed.
It is an America where dissent is met with dismissal, an America with alternative facts – war is peace, freedom is slavery, and ignorance is strength. One where it will no longer be enough to sound white.
By Austin Polanco
Austin is a second generation Dominican-American born in Brooklyn, New York and raised in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. He is interested in the lingustics of Romance languages and is a renowned shower singer. He currently lives in Leipzig, where he is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in physics.