an Open Letter

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[Recently, I remembered a passage from a poem entitled, ‘Open Letter to the South,’ by Langston Hughes, which I honour as an example of what I think is great about the American spirit.

Inspired by this recollection, I decided to write my own open letter to the United States of America to continue Mr. Hughes’ dialogue on hope, unity and openness.  It is clear to me, throughout Hughes’ work, that he never gave up hope even though he felt often tested.  This hope probably gave him his sharpest pain and yet he held on to that hope, showing so much courage and fortitude. Even in his bleakest poems, you can feel that hope keeping him writing. This passion riding on top of his craftsmanship?  Of course, he’s my favourite poet.  This creative letter ends with that noted passage from the poem:]

November 9th, 2016

Dear America,

Both you and my own city have done some things in the past few years that I don’t quite understand.  Regardless of the difference in sizes, I feel as though both our societies have been seeking new answers to more than just economics and politics.  This growing feeling of uncertainty has recently led me to reflect more on the things that I am certain about when it comes to you — and me.

Please allow me this moment to share with you, as you venture forward into this new chapter of your history, what this Canadian writer loves most about America.  This Canadian writer loves:

  1. The history of American art and culture.
  2. The history of American sub-culture and the American teenager.
  3. The legacy of Eleanor and Franklin D. Roosevelt.
  4. The American fight to define freedom and individual value.

From where I live, considering how much my life has been influenced by American art and culture, I know I would not be me without you.  Before I knew anything about identity or language, I was surrounded by American culture.  I survived my adolescent years under your willful banner and I estimate that at least 30% of my academic and literary studies were steeped in Americano.

Let’s face it: the first teenager must have been American.  Some kind of rebellious spirit has always sung out of everything grim and great moment of your last century and helped to develop an incredible range in music, art, story and sport.  You have always had an unyielding need to express individuality, despite societal demands for money and guns and other such short-term and limited methods of gain and communication.  A subculture isn’t necessarily a good thing but I think their existence indicates a society that is strong enough to question and validate its authority and status quo; and thus in a better position to evolve; though in an often defiant way.

America, you are a society where a voice will find the strength to rise and prevail, despite whatever odds, and actually win, many times.  Lots of people fight for freedom and rights; few have been as successful as you.  You pave roads literally and figuratively for physical, mental and artistic transportation in a way that no other country has.

Sometimes, you have been accused of arrogance and aggression; of being both culprit and champion for freedom and individual rights. Ironically, and rather poetically, some of your fiercest battlegrounds appear to have been against yourself, being party to the kind of oppression that inspires you to take a stand.

A few months ago, I saw a great documentary series on the Roosevelts which reminded me of two great leaders whose like this world has not seen in a very long time. Eleanor and Franklin D. Roosevelt were two humans who accomplished many great things for more than themselves.  They were not perfect and made mistakes yet their legacy reminds me that I don’t have to fear failure in pursuit of my greatest goals because I can do just as much damage and suffer just as much disappointment by settling for something easier, safer and more common. Both of these leaders had reason and opportunity to settle for more common and smaller lives.  If FDR had let his disability daunt him or if Ms. Roosevelt had accepted the limitations set upon her gender, my life, I’m sure, would have suffered, if not theirs.

America, like the Roosevelts, has not been perfect yet you are a country where perfection has more freedom to seek itself.  You are a country of new beginnings for new immigrants sprung from traditions that have travelled from and to almost every part of this world. Your dominant language, English, is an amalgamation of those new and old ideas and ideals.  In fact, might I suggest that your cultivation technique for ideas, finding a way to bloom regardless of your circumstances, is perhaps your greatest resource and strength.

Dear America, please continue to be united as the states of America and under your banner continue to kindle the defining process for freedom and courage for all, although, personally, I would prefer your methods be through love and art rather than guns and politics.  Remembering who you were when I was young, what will you be today and tomorrow?

I end this open letter with a quote from one of your greatest poets:

We did not know that we were brothers.
Now we know!
out of that brotherhood
Let power grow!
We did not know
That we were strong.
Now we see
In union lies our strength.
Let unions be
The force that breaks the time-clock,
Smashes misery,

excerpt from ‘Open Letter to the South’ – by Langston Hughes

Sincerely,

Lillian