Oh Beautiful America
tatiana de la tierra

I keep forgetting that we are newly at war because war is all I have ever known. Bombs, massacres and kidnappings are daily occurrences in Colombia, my country of birth and my country of heart and soul. On the 11th of September, Americans were stunned to find that terrorism had hit “home.” Here, we are accustomed to safely viewing images of war that take place in distant lands. With the press of a button, we can make it all go away.

Not this time, though.

I had just woken up when the north World Trade Center Tower was struck by a jetliner at 8:48 a.m. I was making coffee when the south tower was rammed 16 minutes later. Janitors and computer programmers suffocated while I decided what I would wear to work. Tourists were impaled by steel structures while I showered. Executives and artists leapt to their death as I peered into a mirror and painted my eyelids with MAC silver cream eye shadow. By the time I got to work at 11 a.m., the Pentagon was in flames and the World Trade Center had become a crematorium, a mass grave, a sacred site emitting soulful smoke signals.

The Undergraduate Library, where I work as a librarian at University at Buffalo, was packed with students looking up at television sets—beacons of fate—bolted high to the walls. The Instant Replays had commenced: smash, fire, smoke, crash. Buzzwords took form instantly. Initially uttered by newscasters and politicians, select terminology soon became headlines, banners, and logos. Acts of war. Acts of terrorism. Suicide pilots. Box cutters. Pearl Harbor. Body parts. The Pentagon. The Taliban. Osama bin Laden. Ground Zero. Nostradamus. Terror Hits Home. America On Alert. America’s Lost Innocence. God Bless America. America Strikes Back. America’s New War. Oh beautiful for spacious skies… America, America. The Red Cross. The Red-white-and-blue. United We Stand. The UN. CNN. BBC. NPR.

I have been screaming at the television, the radio, and the newspapers ever since. Just like I have always known war, I have never known an innocent America.

Oh beautiful America for your acts of slavery,
Oh beautiful America for your acts of racism,
Oh beautiful America for your acts of English Only,
Oh beautiful America for your acts of imperialism,
Oh beautiful America for your acts of terrorism.

Oh beautiful America for your hatred of immigrants,
Oh beautiful America for your corporate greed,
Oh beautiful America for your Kool-Aid for the poor,
Oh beautiful America for your ignorant masses,
Oh beautiful America for your substandard health care,
Oh beautiful America for your terrorist training camps,
Oh beautiful America for your Mexican labor camps,
Oh beautiful America for your Cuban embargo,
Oh beautiful America for your third world sweat shops,
Oh beautiful America for your prisons.

Oh beautiful America for your wars—on other lands

Other is the key word here. Other is somewhere else. Other is someone else. Other is Yolanda Paternina from the Colombian attorney general’s office, killed by paramilitaries for investigating their participation in the January massacre of 26 people in Chengue. Other is the 15 people shot to death by paramilitary squads in Falan on the 16th of September. The paramilitaries work in tandem with the military, which is currently being bankrolled by the United States under Plan Colombia. Plan Colombia is 1.3 billion dollars of mostly military “aid” bestowed upon Colombia under the guise of the supposed “war on drugs.” Plan Colombia is the herbicide glyphosate sprayed over hundreds of thousands of acres of Colombian land. Plan Colombia is poisoned plantains, corn, coca, coffee, and people. Plan Colombia is arms and ammunition, Blackhawk and Huey helicopters, aerial and satellite intelligence and military training. Human rights abuses have increased under Plan Colombia.

Oh beautiful America for creating a drug-addicted country. Oh beautiful America for criminalizing recreational drugs. Oh beautiful America for supporting the war on my land.
Oh beautiful America for valuing the lives of some, and not of others.

Colombia has been in a state of war since before I was born. The current war is a continuation of an eternal war between the rich and the poor, the liberals and the conservatives. The United States needs access to Colombia’s coal and petroleum. Oh beautiful America for your lack of decent public transportation in the majority of your cities. Oh beautiful America for your lack of alternative energies. Oh beautiful America for your extraordinary comforts. Oh beautiful America for your extraordinary consumption of the earth’s resources.

Hundreds of Colombians died in the World Trade Center attacks, most of them maintenance and restaurant workers. They were part of the estimated 300,000 illegal Colombian immigrants in the United States. All of them were here because Colombia’s eternal war has made life eternally unlivable. There are over 2 million internal refugees in Colombia who have been displaced by war. Three thousand seven hundred people were reported kidnapped last year, an average of 10 people abducted every day. So far, this year’s tally includes 213 children. Over 30,000 Colombians died last year as a result of violence and terrorism.

Colombians, rich and poor, have been fleeing en masse to neighboring South American countries, to Europe, and to the United States. Colombians come here seeking relief from violence, hoping that one day, we will be able to return. Colombians were scrubbing toilets and washing dishes as their dreams incinerated on that momentous Tuesday morning. Oh beautiful America, land of opportunity. Give me your huddled masses so that they may mop your floors.

So many people died horribly and unjustly on the 11th of September. They were not Americans. They were not heroes. They did not die for their country. They were human beings, citizens of the universe. They were family. They were us. Likewise, victims of war and violence everywhere, from Colombia to Afghanistan, they are also us. All of their deaths are also a disgrace. Each of their lives is also valuable.

26 de septiembre de 2001, buffalo, nueva york
Published as:

de la tierra, tatiana. “Oh Beautiful America.” The Graduate Quill Oct. 2001: 11.