As an American, you have to look at the opportunities and advantages we are given as citizens of this country in order to overlook the nastiness these advantages can sometimes create in our society. The summer after I graduated high school my family took a trip to Massachusetts. Being born and raised in California, none of us had ever been to the east coast before. Even though it is only on the other side of the country, it seemed like a world away. (I think I remember even asking on the car ride to the airport if we needed to exchange currency. Again, I had just graduated from high school.) We planned on staying a few days in Boston, then drive up to Cape Cod and finish our week vacation in Hyannis Port, the home of the Kennedy Compound.
On our first day in Boston, we decided to walk around and explore the city. While we were leaving our hotel, located in the heart of the financial district, I remember being amazed at how clean the city was. Since Los Angeles was really the only “big city” I had experienced up until that point, Boston seemed like the complete polar opposite. We found a trolley down by the harbor that took you around the entire city, letting you get off at different stops throughout. We got off to explore places like Paul Revere’s house, Independence Hall and walked some of the freedom trail, a red line painted on the sidewalks leading to different historical places. I was mesmerized being able to see all the places I had read about in history books and learned about in school since I was a kid. Experiencing this made me proud be an American, a country whose forefathers wanted nothing but the best for their people.
After a couple of days, we left Boston and headed to Cape Cod. On the way, we visited Plymouth Rock and Salem, Massachusetts where we went to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s House of Seven Gables and saw a reenactment of the Salem Witch trials, where 19 women were sentenced to death because of suspicion of witchcraft. Realizing how intolerant and judgmental Americans used to be, or so I thought, started to put a damper on my newly-found patriotism. On our second day in Hyannis Port, we woke up early to catch the ferry over to Martha’s Vineyard, an island about 50 miles off the Massachusetts coast. Visiting Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket was what I was looking forward to the most out of the entire trip. Going to an island in the middle of summer made me feel so swanky and Kennedy-esque and I made sure to pack my favorite summer dress, an orange and purple sleeveless Isaac Mizrahi wrap-dress, for the occasion.
As soon as we docked, I felt like I had stepped off of the boat and into a Ralph Lauren ad. Everyone seemed to be wearing Polos and khaki pants, linen dresses or cut off shorts over their designer bathing suits. Even though I am from California, and am used to going to the beach in the summer, this was a completely different experience. In California, people are a lot more laid-back and casual, where the east coast seemed to make going to the beach an event. We practically went straight from the boat onto a tour bus that was going to take us around the entire island. My family and I piled into the old school bus with about 75 other tourists and were driven past the beach where they filmed Jaws, the restaurant Ted Danson likes to eat at when he stays on the island, and a little bluff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.
After the tour was over we were starting to get hungry and had remembered seeing a little pizza place on the main road by the harbor. The street was filled with people going in and out of shops and restaurants and I was trying to stay as close to my parents as possible as not to get separated from them. All the sudden a girl not much older than me stood right in front of me and said, “Oh my gosh, your dress is so cute! Where did you get it?” I was a bit taken aback from the suddenness and flattered at the compliment and I managed to smile and reply, “Oh, thank you! I actually got it at Target.” I saw her look at the guy next to her and then both of them start laughing and walk away. I just stood in the middle of the sidewalk, in disbelief, wondering if this girl had really just laughed in my face because of where I had gotten my dress, that two seconds earlier she was saying was cute. I looked over at my family, who had also stopped when the girl had approached me, and saw them all giving me a quizzical look. “Did she really just do that?” my sister asked. “I can’t believe that just happened,” my dad said in astonishment. Suddenly, I felt like I was one of the witches on the Salem Trials, being judged and humiliated in front of everyone. My face was burning so much from embarrassment that I may as well have been up on the stake. That is when I realized that as much pride as I was starting to have for being an American, I was also starting to understand how judgmental us as Americans still are. A few days earlier I was looking at the places where people fought for our country to be a place of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and now I was realizing we had become a country that judged each other on how we looked and on something as trivial as where we shopped. I had always heard of other countries thinking we were materialistic and superficial, but for the first time in my life, I actually understood what they were talking about.
I took away so much from that vacation. I found a new respect for my country and the forefathers that dedicated their lives to creating a land where people could live their dreams and prosper. I also found a new sense of duty, that as an American to always be an example of what this country represents: equality, tolerance, and an open mind. Looking back now on that girl on Martha’s Vineyard, I am thankful that I was able to experience something that humbled me and showed me how I never wanted to be as a person. Because at the very core of the American experience is the ability to change yourself for the better and to thrive as the person you have always wanted to be. I also wore the shit out of that dress that summer because screw her.