Book excerpt: America Ferrera's 'American Like Me'

ByABC News
September 28, 2018, 5:48 PM
PHOTO: Book cover of America Ferrera's 'American Like Me'
Book cover of America Ferrera's 'American Like Me'
Gallery Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster

MY NAME IS AMERICA, and at nine years old, I hate my name. Not because I hate my country. No! In fact, at nine years old I love my country! When the national anthem plays, I cry into my Dodger Dog thinking about how lucky I am to live in the only nation in the world where someone like me will grow up to be the first girl to play for the Dodgers. I do hate the Pledge of Allegiance though, not because I don’t believe in it. I believe every word of it, especially the “liberty and justice for all” part. I believe the Pledge of Allegiance to my bones. And at nine years old I feel honored, self-righteous, and quite smug that I was smart enough to be born in the one country in the whole world that stands for the things my little heart knows to be true: we are all the same and deserve an equal shot at life, liberty, and a place on the Dodgers’ batting lineup. I hate the Pledge of Allegiance because for as long as I can remember there is always at least one smart-a-- in class who turns to face me with his hand over his heart to recite it, you know, ’cause my name is America.

The first day of every school year is always hell. Teachers always make a big deal of my name in front of the whole class. They either think it’s a typo and want to know what my real name is, or they want to know how to pronounce it (ridiculous, I know), and they always follow up with “America? You mean, like the country?”

“Yes, like the country,” I say, with my eyes on my desk and my skin burning hot.

This is how I come to hate American History. Not because I don’t love saying “the battle of Ticonderoga” (obviously, I do). But because no teacher has ever been more excited to meet a student named America than my first American History teacher.

He has been waiting all day to meet me, and so to commemorate this moment he wheels me around the classroom on his fancy teacher’s chair, belting “God Bless America” while a small part of me dies inside.

His face reminds me of Eeyore’s when I say, “Actually, I like to go by my middle name, Georgina, so could you please make a note of it on the roster- paper-thingy? Thanks.” When he has the gall to ask me why, I say something like “It’s just easier,” instead of what I really want to say, which is “Because people like you make my name unbearably embarrassing! And another thing, I’m not actually named after the United States of America! I’m named after my mother, who was born and raised in Honduras. That’s in Central America, in case you’ve never heard of it, also part of the Americas. And if you must know, she was born on an obscure holiday called Día de Las Américas, which not even people in Honduras know that much about, but my grandfather was a librarian and knew weird shit like that. This is a holiday that celebrates all the Americas—South, Central, and North, not just the United States of. So, my name has nothing to do with amber waves of grain, purple mountains, the US flag, or your very narrow definition of the word. It’s my mother’s name and a word that also relates to other countries, like the one my parents come from. So please refrain from limiting the meaning of my name, erasing my family’s history, and making me the least popular kid in class all in one fell swoop. Just call me Georgina, please?” I don’t say any of this, to anyone. Ever. It would be impolite, or worse, unpatriotic. And as I said before, I love my country in the most unironic and earnest way anyone can love anything.

I know just how lucky I am to be an American because every time I complain about too much homework my mother reminds me that in Honduras I’d be working to help support the family, so I’d better thank my lucky stars that she sacrificed everything she had so that my malcriada* self and my five siblings could one day have too much homework. It’s a perspective that has me embracing Little League baseball, the Fourth of July, and ABC’s TGIF lineup of wholesome American family comedies with more fervor than most. I feel more American than Balki Bartokomous, the Winslows, and the Tanners combined, and I believe that one day I will grow up to look like Aunt Becky from Full House and then Frank Sinatra will ask me to rerecord “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” as a duet with him because I know all the words better than my siblings.

So I let it slide when people respond to my name with “Wow, your parents must be very patriotic. Where are they ACTUALLY from?” This is a refrain I hear often and one that will take me a couple of decades to unpack for all its implications and assumptions. I learn to go along with the casting of my parents as the poor immigrants yearning to breathe free, who made it to the promised land and decided to name their American daughter after the soil that would fulfill all their dreams. After all, it is a beautiful and endearing tale. Only later do I learn to bristle and push back against this incomplete narrative. A narrative which manages to erase my parents’ history, true experience, and claim to the name America long before they had a US-born child. Never mind that they’d already had a US-born child before me and named her Jennifer. Which is both a much more American name than mine and one I would kill to have on the first day of every school year.

______________

*spoiled.

From AMERICAN LIKE ME by America Ferrera. Copyright 2018 by America Ferrera. Excerpted by permission of Gallery Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster.

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