Carnegie Mellon University

"We Are Americans" by Zainab Adisa

First Place for High School Poetry

When I speak with my friend
whose skin is smooth oak,
with curls on top
of his head the shade of low charcoal
I am mesmerized.
His accent is thick with South America.
Brazilian pride lining the sentence
he has told me often in variation:
“You know you’re not American right?”

I stiffen and scoff at such bluntness.
His voice speaks with a playfulness
I’ve come to love
yet a seriousness that my mind
associates with trivial business.
When we allow our words to flow freely
in debate we are defending our “nationalism.”

No, I am not American, he’s right.
My blood lines the heritage of Nigerian
village kin whose accents flow in a wind
I have yet to tame and words
I’ve yet to claim.

But when he says,
“You are not American”
I know he knows nothing about my heritage.

Without knowing, he is referring to citizens
of the United States of America.

to the blondes
with blue eyes
and peckish habits,

to the brunettes
with long legs
and apparent attitudes,

to the pale skinned
with their perfect
verb conjugations,

to the “blacks”
with kinky curls
and grease slathered fingers

and lastly, the mulatto hued
with a sense of limbo
hiding between their words.

He speaks highly of his home
as we often do, though secretly loathing
the countries that never gave either
of us more than what we earned.

I want to ask him
though I’m not sure if I ever did,
“What defines an American?”

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