It ought to go without saying, but life in the United States of America was never “great” for everyone — and that remains true today. But even if the emotional decibel in America currently falls somewhere between anxious, traumatic and chaotic, whenever I listen closely, I hear a different tune: tune strung together by the millions of Americans who are on the ground, passionate and vulnerable, fighting for their space, nurturing their communities and celebrating the spectacular diversity that has the capacity to make this country live up to its name.
This Fourth of July, I hope those voices ring the loudest. Below, 14 times they did so on Man Repeller. Whether they’re simply sharing their truth, championing their vision or activating others in pursuit of a better tomorrow, they are all doing their part in composing a new American story that deserves to be heard. Today, let’s celebrate them.
“Growing up in Portland, the majority of my friends were not Lebanese nor even Middle Eastern. I would go from hanging out with them, listening to American pop music, to getting into my parent’s car where Fairuz (a very famous Lebanese singer) would be on full blast. It was tough as a first-generation American kid to explain things that were so culturally normal in America — like going to sleepovers or having a boyfriend — to which I’d receive a hard “no” or “la” (Arabic for no). But I was also able to educate friends about my culture and my parents’ home country, which I loved. I think for many first-generation Americans there comes a moment in your life when there is a sort of shift, where being different gives you so much pride. I was and am so proud to be Lebanese-American.”
Heba Kanso, 8 First-Generation Kids Tell Their Story
“We navigated wanting to be married legally, but not as a same-sex couple, because that’s not how we identify — Bee feels most comfortable with a more masculine identity, but when going to check off that binary box, neither feels entirely right. We let the officiant know our chosen pronouns. And we slowly fought for our space to be. That day, I repeated to myself under my breath: ‘You have a right to be here.’ And when I looked in Bee’s eyes as we were wed, I saw that Bee saw me. I was finally being seen and loved.”
Caitlin Garrity, From Embracing PDA to Choosing Happiness: 7 Love Letters to Pride
“As a high school student, sometimes it’s hard to find ways to make an impact on a large scale, but [the gun control] movement has made me feel like anything is possible. The students in Parkland are so inspiring; they’ve used and continue to use their voices effectively. I hope the leaders of the country are influenced by the masses of people who demand action instead of the money they receive from interest groups. In the future, I hope we have gun control so effective that we never have a mass shooting ever again.”
Mirashaye Basa, 5 Student Activists on How It Feels to March for Their Lives
“No one tells you how your experience as an immigrant will begin with acknowledging yourself as less. You are a brown woman waiting in line at JFK, fumbling to make sure your papers are in order, wondering whether your name is too jagged, too Muslim, that it won’t roll off their tongue. You watch as people with fairer skin pass you by. Global Entry, they will say, for the “pre-approved, low-risk.” Remember: They said global, not equal. You will hear about how hard it can be to integrate; you will get advice on what news to watch, which to forget. You will attempt seeming familiar, attempt the humor, laugh along when you can’t. But no one will warn you of the loneliness. No one will tell you that you will want to reach into a city’s guts to find food that smells like your own, to find places that feel like your own… What they won’t tell you, but you must know, is that after some time has passed, you will find people who will make you feel less foreign. You will know love, friendship and joy. And in that space between living and belonging, perhaps you will even look back at your country with its chewed-up streets, its battered landscapes, its beloved sky and want to hold it to your chest. You will realize just what it takes to build a home.”
“In 1977, I was a founding member and president of White Buffalo Calf Woman Society, the first Native American women’s shelter in the nation. I realized the need for this shelter when I was a community college instructor. I saw girls come to class with black eyes and injuries, and they said that they just fell down the stairs. I’m also a survivor of violence. I know what it takes to recover and to fight for your wellness. The statistic now is that three out of five Native American women will be assaulted in their lifetime. So I talked to two women who worked for Indian Health Service and I said, ‘This is not okay. We need to start some kind of society or something to stop this violence by our own people against our own people.’ The shelter still exists today on the Rosebud Reservation.”
Faith Spotted Eagle, A Native American Activist Speaks Candidly About What It’s Like
“Being an undocumented resident isn’t something I’ve shared publicly for safety reasons, so the only people I’ve really talked about this with are my family and my significant other. It’s been difficult trying to have any sort of conversation that goes anywhere with my folks, because they refuse to see the discontinuation of DACA as something we should be worrying about ‘this moment.’ Their way of helping is simply telling me to stop researching ways to protect myself and worrying myself to death, and wait for Congress to step in. My significant other has been a lot more helpful and understanding, and I can’t properly express how much I appreciate and love them helping me through this. But with the exception of an online friend, I don’t personally know anybody who’s going through the same thing. It’s a really isolating fear.”
“We had these neighbors come up to our house a few days following the attacks [of 9/11]. They rang our doorbell and my parents were kind of nervous to open. We opened the door and they said, ‘Hey, you guys have been here for ten years, as long as most of us. If anyone bothers you, just know, the neighborhood has your back.’ And I’ve been thinking about that a lot recently. The world feels like it is kind of going backwards. Kids are being terrorized and killed for their religion. [Muslims are] being verbally and physically attacked — my friend who is 9 months pregnant was verbally abused on the subway following the Paris attacks. But I still have faith in the people who are the foundation of this country. And I’m not going to give up on that, I’m not going to let my humanity be taken away from me. I’m saddened by the hate, but I think it will be triumphed by good.”
Aniqa Gorgani, Real Talk: 7 Muslim Americans Open Up About Islamophobia
“I grew up not feeling at home in my own skin, feeling too Indian for Americans and too American for Indians. You internalize those judgements and value systems, not realizing that in doing so, you’re setting yourself up to fail because you consider yourself to be an inherent contradiction. But you can’t sharpen a knife without a whetstone — as hard as my childhood was in a lot of ways, I credit it with so much of who I am today. Constantly having to reevaluate your audience and context can take a lot out of you when the entire world is trying to tell you who you’re supposed to be. So I developed a really strong internal radar for what felt authentic and honest to me — time spent understanding other people was also time spent nurturing my intuition and sense of self. Especially as an only child, I didn’t have anyone Indian-American to really model behavior off of other than myself, so I got really good at observing and learning from the people around me, even if they weren’t ‘hybrids’ like I was.”
Rachita Vasan, Accents, Language and Race: 5 People on Why They Code-Switch
“When I went to the movies with my friends the other night and all of us needed to use the restroom afterwards, it was easy for them to walk into the women’s, but I just stood there, unsure, and ended up not going because I got too nervous. Nervous that if I went into the women’s I would get yelled at (since I look very masculine) or that if I went into the men’s I’d get ‘caught.’ I hate going to the bathroom in public. Most of my friends are cisgender and when we discuss our struggles that’s when I feel most alone. When I’m around my guy friends, I wonder if they see me for who I truly am or someone pretending to be something I’m not. I’ve been trying to get more involved in the LGBT community and meet more queer people. Recently I’ve been going to events at the LGBT Center in Manhattan and also volunteering for MIX NYC, NYC’s experimental queer film festival. So far it’s going well, I even did some gay square dancing (which apparently exists)!”
“[I came out because] I desired ownership of my being. To have full accountability of my space in the world. I knew it would only benefit me in the long run. Coming out [as transgender] was less about an announcement and more about revealing more of me every chance I could. Speaking on it when necessary. I have to live with myself so I wanted those around me to be in the know. There was a take-it-or-leave-mentality in the beginning, but I had to do the work for myself to be okay. Time healed the early disconnect I faced with family.
Mila Adderley, Celebrating Pride: 11 People Share Their Stories
“I experienced unadulterated happiness [the day] I decided to cut my hair off and wear a short ‘Caesar’ — a style often wore by black men. I remember the day when I decided to do it. I was waiting at the 135th street train station on Lenox Avenue [in Harlem, NY] and saw a woman walk by. Something about her screamed confidence. Maybe it was her red dress, sunglasses or her short Caesar that sat like a crown on her head, illuminating the golden [quality] of her melanin skin. That was the day I wanted to define who I was as a person, as a black woman. In the same way that woman was confident, I wanted to be too, in my own way. I decided to cut my hair off that day because, in a way, I wanted to define who I was without judgement of my hair getting in the way. For so long, women have been subjected to other people’s opinions about how their hair should be.”
Jaleesa Myers, I Asked 13 Black Women a Question I Needed to Answer Myself
“I’ve been working on the climate issue for what seems like forever, and it is just beyond frustrating to see where we are today. If we, as a country, had taken steps just a few decades ago to reduce our carbon emissions, we might not be seeing storms like Hurricane Harvey. We would not be seeing sea level rise ravaging our cities. We would not be seeing climate migrants around the world… [But] despair is a luxury, not an option. Every day that emissions go up, the situation gets worse. Even though there are now some impacts that we can’t avoid, we can still stop the worst impacts from happening, and we need to fight with every fiber of our being to do that. A second piece of advice is to be kind. Take care of each other because it’s going to be a pretty difficult slog. I think we owe it to ourselves to take time to love, play in the ocean, walk in the woods, climb the mountains, appreciate what we’re fighting for and be grateful for what we have and what we’re holding onto.
“One of my poems is about sexual abuse. It’s very graphic. It’s published nationally and internationally, and is one of the poems I read most. People will ask me, ‘How can you stand up in front of a thousand people and talk about being sexually violated as a ten year old?’ Every time I do it, I look out in the audience and think, That person knows what I’ve been through, and that person knows, and that person knows. What that says to those people is that it was a horrible thing, but you can get past it. You can thrive and survive, and you are still whole. I’ve had all kinds of experiences, whether I was reading it in a high school or a college or a prison, where I’ve had people come up to me afterwards and say how touching it was.”
Jackie Warren-Moore, What a 66-Year-Old Poet Can Teach Us About Activism
“I won’t get to be a young boy, a dumb boy, a heartthrob boy, a varsity running back boy, an artsy boy, a mysterious boy, or the rabbi’s hot son, boy. I will have to make do with my real puberty now, at age almost 30, bracing for acne, proudly sporting a goatee that looks drawn on with a pencil, and already so horny I spent my subway ride home the other day picturing making love to the (quite stunning) 60-year old woman across from me on the 3 train.
My doctor told me to settle in for a long road. I said, ‘Fine, whatever.’ Because it’s true: What change can be so instant? (Except the terrific and tectonic shift from alive to dead, capable of being catastrophically quick. Besides that, what transformation can we really rush?) We’re not fucking muffins. We cannot use the heat to make the leap from batter that can be poured and molded to something solid, of substance, that teeth can sink into, all within minutes.
This is magic, but it is not a trick. I am the rabbit and the hat.”
Feature photo by Krista Anna Lewis; Collage by Emily Zirimis.