Look Like An American [Spoken Word]

Years ago while at a restaurant with my wife, an elderly couple next to us overheard us talking. After some time, the man leaned over to me and whispered, “When are you going to start looking like an American?” Without much thought I immediately responded, “What does an American look like?” This poem is a reflection of the exchange that day.

When are you going to start looking like an American?

Look like an American?
Tell me what I’m supposed to do?
Do I need to cut myself and prove to you that I bleed red, white, and blue?
Is there something I need to prove, a test to put me through?
You gonna quiz me on who won the world series of 1962?

Tell me what does an American look like…to you?

Of all the things an American can be
What makes you think an American can’t look like me?

You can’t fathom this accent-less voice matching my look?
Perhaps you should put down your guns and pick up a book

Learn about the world, and where you fit in it all
Rather than acting like some kind of authority, making me feel small

Tell me what does an American look like?
Does he look like the indigenous man who quietly fills you with guilt?
Or the does he look like the enslaved, upon whose back this all was built?

Tell me what does an American look like?

Now you’ve got me fired me up, writing these rhymes
With you ignorant ass and racist paradigms

Just say you what you mean, put in plain sight
I do not look like an American
Because I am not white

You see
At my age
I’m no longer fazed by yells across the street “Hey Bin Laden”
The names and obscenities I get called just walking in the mall, minding my own
I just brush them off
But what hurts me to the core is that question…
“So…where are you from?”
And after I tell them, the inevitable follow-up feel like a gut punch
“No, where are you really from”

Your question, even with the best of intentions, tells me that I don’t belong here
That I am the other. A guest visiting your home

But let tell me you where I’m from

I am from a family of immigrants
And we are your doctors, nurses, lawyers, techies, shop keepers, cab drivers, artists, poets, teachers, truck drivers
And we are part of communities of black and brown who are the invisible wheels that keep this country moving even in the most challenging of times
Our stories have been written out of our country’s history, but the moral fabric of this nation has been sewn by us

This is my home, and I am here
And I’m not going anywhere, nor will I cower in fear

Despite my cynicism and criticism
I believe in the American dream
Not the one they show on TV
But realizing my full potential and lifting those up around me
It is near, it is real
But it requires us as a nation to truth-tell, repair, and heal.

That is the America I believe in, it’s the one that I see
It’s the home of the brave and the land of the free

So if you ever wonder who an American is supposed to be
Just look me in the eyes, cuz he looks just like me

About RP Singh

Writer. Poet. Organizer. View all posts by RP Singh

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