Today while driving my son to preschool, I had a weepy moment and I thought I’d write about it.
As a footnote- I looked up the definition to the Spanish word patria. It means “fatherland.” Different versions for the song "This Land is Your Land" can be found on Itunes and the the lyrics can be found here: http://kids.niehs.nih.gov/lyrics/thisland.htm
In order to write the following I listened to the song over and over as I wrote it.
Claire, Gabriel's bday party favor- music cd compilation is to thank for this moment.
This Land is Your Land
Today was the first time my child listened to and enjoyed “This Land is Your Land.” You know it? That folky song that heralds all that is wonderful about this country. My son immediately enjoyed its catchy tune and tried hard to sing along- a difficult task for a three year old.
Then the questions began, “Mami what’s land?”
Mami says, “It means tierra.”
I look in the rear view mirror and see the confused look on his face still there.
I remember tierra in Spanish also means dirt.
I add, “Samuel tierra doesn’t just mean dirt it also means…”
I start to listen to the words. The tears begin. I’m not premenstrual, I’m not pregnant, I’m not that patriotic but I can’t contain the tears.
I wipe the tears and add, “Samuel tierra refers to a place.”
But that’s not all it means. I think this song refers to patria. How do I explain and translate patria to Samuel- why is that word only in Spanish to me? Does that word with its true meaning exist to me in English?
I was born in Peru. I left Peru at the age of 4, only one year older than my son. I grew up in Canada and mostly the US. I am a US citizen, but if you ask me where I’m from, I think and feel Peru. If I go to Peru- the Peruvians recognize and identify me for the American that I am. Now as I see my 3 year old sing along to “This Land is Your Land,” I wonder if this song was ever really intended for me? The song tells me “this land was made for you and me.” Part of me wants to think so, needs to believe so. After all I grew up mostly in New Jersey- yeah that’s kinda described in the song. I love hot dogs, I love apple pie. I love to do just as I damn well please- because I freakin’ have rights- isn’t that all so all about “this land?” That’s not all of me, though. I also ache for anticuchos, a pervuian dish made from cow heart meat, chicha morada’ a purple drink made from purple corn grown in the Andes, Afro-Peruvian music, and a gray city filled with pollution and poverty called Callao. I swear, laugh, and make love best in Spanish. I argue, empathize, and think best in English. When I think of this country as my land it feels natural and yet it feels like I am betraying something that is such an integral part of me. I realize my son will never have this internal division. Is this assimilation?
I think how to describe “land” to my son. What is land? It is that place that brings you peace and happiness, that is home to all your success, and home to all the trials that bring your success. It is this place that allows success. It is the place you send off your children to die for in wars. It’s the place you meet your husband. It’s the place you find love. It’s the place you see your children grow up.
“Samuel, tierra means the place where you were born….[pause] or the place you call your home. This song describes the United States. It’s all the places your family lives, your abuelos in Florida, your grandparents in Pennsylvania, your tia in Oregon, your aunt in New Jersey, Daddy’s work in Washington DC, your home in New York.“
Confused face gone.
Song is over.
“Mami play it again”