Jessica Diaz-Hurtado, a Washington, D.C., based multimedia artist and journalist has won the inaugural “USA Our Way” contest, sponsored by ArtChangeUs and Define American. Her prize winning video, “Mi América,” showcases a reflective spoken word piece, overlaid with footage from North, Central and South America.
I wrote Mi America on a road trip from Dallas, TX to Washington D.C. I had just moved back to the United States after being away for almost a year. I hadn’t written a poem from the pit of my stomach in a long time. Fresh from culture shock, I began to understand my identity as an American in a different perspective passing through small southern towns making my way back to the North.
I never fully understood what it meant to be American, other than my primos in El Salvador introducing me as their American cousin. I just knew that having this title granted me privileges- education, opportunity and passport to a life I wouldn’t have if I wasn’t American. It was a blessing and a curse. It was what my parents left their home to become. Growing up as I’ve traveled between my home in Latin America and the United States of America, I began to realize that American became synonymous to white, to gringa. So I rejected anything American because I knew US America didn’t want me and my people. They wanted to build walls to keep us out. They called us stupid and burdened. America never felt like home.
But after living in my home country of Colombia in South American and reconnecting with my Central American home, I began to understand what it meant to be American. It meant to be tied to my roots. It was native. It was black. It was beyond a colonized America. It was mixed. It was marginalized. It was wombyn. It was life. It meant to be reborn in my truth. Becoming American was a process I felt on this road trip of a raw confrontation with North America. America no longer had borders for me. America in its entirety was me and my home. It was diasporic, it was to be in more than one place.
Define American and ArtChangeUs congratulates Jessica for her hard work with the $1,000 contest award, and thanks her for expanding the conversation about what it means to be “American” today.