My mother immigrated to the United States from Brazil by ship when she was sixteen years old. Her mother was from the small town of Gravata in the northeast, not far from where Lula, the autoworker who would become president of Brazil, was born. My father’s Dutch/English ancestors also came by sea, but in 1642. One of their descendants was a laborer in the small party of men who founded the city of Newark, New Jersey.
Growing up, I never felt like the son of immigrants. Maybe because the word “immigrant” didn’t carry the weight it does today. Maybe because all I was interested in was sports, girls, and getting drunk. Where we lived in southern Indiana the Klan was very active. The dry cleaners we used while I was growing up was run by a Klansman who was later sent to prison for burning down an African-American bookstore.
It was not cool to be foreign there. My mother spoke three languages but I only heard her use English at home, except when her sisters would visit. My mother was a beautiful woman, very smart and beloved by almost everyone. She might have invented the concept of “get in where you fit in.” I was forty-two years old when she died. We never discussed any of this.
I am well aware of the crimes of America. America has killed many of my friends and it has almost killed me. But there are many reasons to love America. Almost every day, I find new reasons to give my passion to this place. People I meet, songs I hear, moments on the street.
America is disintegrating and much of the ugliness of our history is being revealed again. We have to deal with this. The future of humanity is at stake. But I also know this: You cannot transform something you do not love. You can throw rocks at it but you cannot change it. I was born here. I will die here. I am in it to win it.
I love my country.
Lee Ballinger, CounterPunch’s music columnist, is co-editor of Rock and Rap Confidential author of the forthcoming book Love and War: My First Thirty Years of Writing, interviewed Honkala for CounterPunch. He can be reached at: Rockrap@aol.com