America was building prison camps. “The people in this country have no heart,” the young brown-skinned mother wept as the blackshirts finally released her daughter. Reunited but not safe, they both faced deportation back to violence and death unless they joined the thousands in the desert or in wire cages inside concrete caves, where the lights were on all night and frightened children weren’t allowed a hug, not even by their parents. It was like being kidnapped by the very gangs they’d fled.
Imagine, if you can, being beaten and raped on your way home one day. Bloody and sobbing, you stagger to the doorway of a stranger’s house. But instead of taking care of you, the occupants arrest you and lock you up. You don’t even speak their language. You have no idea why you’re handcuffed or how long you’ll be there. If you have a child or spouse, they may be taken from you and you won’t know where they are…
When I was fourteen years ago in Texas, I fell asleep delivering papers early in the morning and crashed into another car at the curb. My face was cut and bleeding. There was blood all over. I got out, walked up to the closest house, and pounded on the door. “Help!” I yelled, completely out of it and raving. The porch light soon came on. A woman in her nightgown stuck her head outside and screamed. “Please call the police,” I said, “and call my father, too.” (My worst shame was, I’d wrecked the car—a ’58 VW—and the old man would be mad. He wasn’t, though.) I might have given her the number. I guess she called him or the cops did, but either way, I ended up at the base hospital where an Air Force doctor stitched my eyelid back together and sent me home. I missed a couple days of school and wore a bandage on my eye for days.
No one refused to help me. No one locked me up.
I’m old now and I’ve seen a lot. We live in a wreck of an old adobe on a dirt road in a neighborhood where young brown children waiting for the school bus look just like the others at the border. They wear the cleanest clothes and no one’s scared or crying. Every day I read about the goddamned fascists treating refugees like vermin and I lose it. In my country, my America. If these people showed up at my door, I’d give them food and water, let them use the bathroom, call an agency or church to help them, drive them to their relatives, anything I could. I’d be proud and grateful if my government would handle this, but I would do it anyway because the pain is killing me.
On this very different Fourth of July, I feel only anger at the lies and cruelty that know no bounds.
We may be better than this.
I honestly don’t know.
Let America Be America Again
Published 1937 by Langston Hughes (1902 – 1967)
Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.
(America never was America to me.)
Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.
(It never was America to me.)
O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.
(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)
Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?
I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.
I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!
I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.
Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”
Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.
O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.
Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!
Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!