America Is Not My History
Recently, I was heading home from visiting a friend over the weekend. The drive was about an hour long, sixty miles on the same stretch of highway. To get through the monotony, I of course decided to listen to the soundtrack of Broadway sensation, “Hamilton.” As I cruised down the interstate, I sang and rapped along (to the best of my abilities) to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s latest masterpiece. For sixty miles, I relearned the story of how Alexander Hamilton went from being an immigrant orphan to one of the most influential Founding Fathers of America.
At some point on my journey, as I listened to this grand story illustrating the American Dream, I came to a realization: America is not my history. My ancestors did not come to America on the Mayflower to flee religious persecution in England. Nobody in my family was involved in the creation of the United States. I am not a decedent of American revolutionaries. While I am, legally, an American citizen, my country of origin is in no way representative of my history.
My family has been in America for barely a century. Before that, most of them lived in Lithuanian and Russian shtetls. They only left Eastern Europe because of religious persecution and the bright hope that America would breed better opportunities. My paternal grandmother’s family left Romania in the late 1800s and emigrated to Eretz Yisrael. There, my grandmother’s grandparents carted away seaside sand in order to establish the modern Hebrew city of Tel Aviv. My grandmother left Eretz Yisrael in the 1930s because of the Arab riots. She came to Brooklyn with her family, just a generation later than the rest of my predecessors.
While my 100 years of American roots and my U.S. passport may qualify me to ostensibly be an American, I in no way feel connected to American history, because it just isn’t my history. My history is founding the Jewish state after fleeing from places that persecuted my people. It’s drifting from land to land and never fully being accepted or granted citizenship, because my peoples’ “otherness” frightened the Gentiles. It’s thousands of years of exile from the one land I can call home. It’s complaining for forty years in the desert. My history is a promise.
This highway realization then led me to another insight that would probably make my AP U.S. History (APUSH) teacher cringe: as an egocentric teenager, since American history doesn’t involve me, I’m not interested in it. Because of my lack of interest, APUSH ultimately proved to be among the most unexciting classes I have ever taken. In retrospect, I now realize that it had nothing to do with the teacher or the learning style, but rather the content of the class and the fact that as I embarked upon my apathetic APUSH journey, I was simultaneously learning about my history, which was far more interesting to me.
I went to Israel during the fall of my junior year in high school, where, in addition to APUSH, I took an intensive, transformative course on Israel history, starting from Breishit and ending with Tzuk Eitan. When I got back to the States, I continued my study of APUSH and started a new class on modern Jewish philosophers. APUSH never really had a fair shot at capturing my curiosity because I was too enraptured by my own history.
Thus, as I continued down the freeway with this new realization in the forefront of my mind and “Hamilton” blasting from the car speakers, I found that I could still fully appreciate Miranda’s musical genius, despite preferring my own history to that of Mr. Hamilton’s.