Stars and Stripes and Racist Imperialism

A prose poem by Hannah Keziah Agustin

Stars and Stripes and Racist Imperialism

No History Is Immune From Ends, but the Americans Were Infinite

To the times that call for candor, hunger. Mr. President, what was the sound before surrender? It’s almost summer. I sit across from a white woman in the student union cafe who wants to adopt a child from a third-world country. She says “the Philippines” in a thick, midwestern accent. To feel small in the presence of a lighter people. To be a specter, speaking. To drown my anger, I gulp down tea that scalds my tongue, the ghost of taste gargling inside my oriental mouth like rags. “America will not renounce its part in the mission of its race,” announces US Senator Albert J Beveridge on January 9, 1900 in Washington, DC. To explain, with pride, that the Philippines has McDonald’s and Taco Bell and Subway. To eat at KFC after school within a younger body, the sweat of Manila on my back. To lick the thick, brown gravy off of my index finger, chicken oil dripping on my uniform paid for with lunch money. Mr. President, what alchemy will change my blood? To eat popcorn at the car dealership and be asked if the Philippines has popcorn. To stare back with animal eyes. To eat with my friends at the dining halls of an American university and pick the crumbs off my plate so nothing goes to waste. Hunger, like an heirloom passed to me by ancestors. To mourn the meat scraps washed away by dish soap. To mourn the daily bread from Piggly Wiggly, best before yesterday. To weep alone within myself for the cup that overfloweth, the pantry that ulcerates with nothing but applesauce and canned tomatoes, the great eternal ends of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Mr. President, what abhorrent mathematics will set the self-governing currents of the Americas pouring through my veins? “Savage blood, Oriental blood, Malay blood, Spanish example—are these the elements of self-government?” Beveridge asks. What will my father say at the emptying of a feast? For I have seen the ghosts that starve above rice fields far away and felt upon my tongue a promiscuous affinity. To be in the land of milk and honey, the Canaan of my mother’s dreams, and be emaciated, orphaned by two nations, child of barbarism schooled in Spanish methods, daughter of the island empire, colonial archipelago. “We must never forget that in dealing with the Filipinos we deal with children.” Mr. President, can you feel it? To hold the profit and the glory of the divine mission of America. To own my people’s hands and feet, our heads and hearts and spirits. All my ghosts have atrophied. To this, my distant declaration. To this, my spoken freedom silenced in the aftermath of louder anthems. I’m at a derby in Wisconsin. My parents hold their hands against their chests, laughing at the crushing of cars, selfie stick waving in the air like a flag. To what bright banner do the dead march on. To what dark song do we mourn so gallantly streaming.

More Like This

After the Obama Election, Ten White Men Brew a Plan to Disrupt America

"The Unfolding," A.M. Homes's satirical novel, imagines a backstory to the present-day chaos we find ourselves in

Sep 7 - Carli Cutchin

How Women Prop Up the White Nationalist Movement

Seyward Darby, author of "Sisters in Hate," on white identity, Black Lives Matter, and racial justice

Sep 1 - Deirdre Sugiuchi

Motherhood Has Always Been Political—Now, Books About It Are, Too

A crop of new nonfiction works are examining how historical, social, and governmental forces shape motherhood

Jun 27 - Nancy Reddy
Thank You!