Surprises in Philadelphia

About a week before I left for Philadelphia, I started feeling a little uneasy. I’d spent the last couple months counting down the days till I got to embark on this great adventure, but the question I’d been avoiding caught up with me at the last minute: as someone who often doesn’t even feel a particular sense of belonging in the U.S., what was I doing walking into the birthplace of America? I’ve spent my whole life in the San Diego-Tijuana region. Meaning that Mexico has always been just as present and significant in my life as the U.S. What’s more, my parents always made it clear to me that even though I was born in the U.S., and even though I might live and go to school in the U.S., I am not American. I am Mexican. It sounds harsh, but most of the time it was comforting that there was no room for doubt. It does, however, mean that I grew up learning about the U.S. and its history in a very detached, uninterested way. Because as far as I was concerned, it wasn’t my history. Which brings me back to my initial question… so what am I doing at Independence National Historic Park, home to Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell and all those hallmarks of a history that I’m still not sure belongs to me? It’s not that the question has an easy answer, but my unease was put to rest soon after arriving in Philadelphia. It turns out that Renee, my supervisor, is the best. She legitimately cares about making youth programs relevant, and allows space for teens to explore their own complex relationships with the U.S. Her efforts are incredibly genuine and creative, and it’s exciting that I’ll get to work with students who might be grappling with some of the same identity questions as me. And despite all my initial skepticism, I can’t deny that I felt a little skip in my stomach when I first saw the Liberty Bell. Renee gave my roommate and me a quick tour after hours on my first day in the city. The bell stands at the end of a long hallway, all golden and dignified and kind of beautiful. My excitement surprised me because I wasn’t expecting to have any reaction to the bell at all. But it makes me wonder how else I’ll surprise myself this summer. Celeste

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