[Blackstudies-l] Tiphanie Yanique in the NYT: Americans in a Battered Paradise

Maria Lima lima at geneseo.edu
Wed Sep 13 08:54:37 EDT 2017

lisaparavisini posted: " An Op-Ed piece by Tiphanie Yanique for the New
York Times. I lived through two hurricanes as a child and I remember all
the good stuff that eventually came in the mail — M&Ms, bug spray, playing
cards. So when I heard that Hurricane Irma had made "
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<http://repeatingislands.com/author/lisaparavisini/> Tiphanie Yanique in
the NYT: Americans in a Battered Paradise
lisaparavisini <http://repeatingislands.com/author/lisaparavisini/>

[image: 13yaniqueSub-master768.jpg]

An Op-Ed piece by Tiphanie Yanique for the *New York Times*.

I lived through two hurricanes as a child and I remember all the good stuff
that eventually came in the mail — M&Ms, bug spray, playing cards. So when
I heard that Hurricane Irma had made landfall on American soil last
Wednesday, I began gathering those kinds of things to mail to my friends
and family. I put the packages together and watched the news. There was
nothing in what I saw about the hurricane hitting the United States.

When I finally received a text from my Aunt Cecile on Thursday, she wrote,
“The post office is gone.” “What do you mean ‘gone’?” I texted back. She
responded with a list: “Grocery stores gone. Schools gone. Hospital gone.”
“What do you mean ‘gone’?” I asked again. “Gone,” she texted again.
“Demolished. No roof. No walls.”

That Sunday the news media made a big deal out of Irma’s landfall on the
Florida Keys as a Category 4 hurricane, and then on Florida itself. But in
truth Irma had struck United States land days before as a disastrous
Category 5 hurricane. That was when it hit the United States Virgin
Islands, devastating my home island, St. Thomas. That was when my aunt
texted, “Gone.”

Maybe you’ve heard of the Virgin Islands, of St. Croix, St. Thomas and St.
John. It’s a good place to go on vacation, to fall in love, to have a
wedding. One hundred years ago, the islands were called the Danish West
Indies. Denmark sold the islands in 1917 to the United States for $25
million. The people who lived there, including my ancestors, were no longer
Danish West Indians. As my cousin Norma remembers learning from older
relatives, on the day of the transfer the Danish flag went down slowly on
the flagpole. The American flag went zoom-zoom up. And then we were as
American as Coca-Cola.

It took 10 more years for Virgin Islanders to actually be granted American
citizenship. Before the transfer, the Danes and the Americans argued about
trading us, with one Danish lawmaker said to have risen from his death bed
to vote against the sale. Either way, the conversation about our future
hadn’t included us.

Today Virgin Islanders are led by a president who makes clear delineations
between “real” Americans and all the rest. True, the people of the Virgin
Islands didn’t vote for this current president. The people of the Virgin
Islands didn’t vote for *any* president of our United States of America,
because voting in the general election is not a privilege of citizenship
that the federal government extends to us. Like the citizens of Puerto
Rico, Guam and the other United States territories, we are not yet
No wonder TV networks and even the president’s homeland security adviser,
Tom Bossert, can’t seem to get it right.

In a press briefing last Friday, Mr. Bossert appeared to chastise the news
media for not covering the government response to Hurricane Irma’s assault
on the Virgin Islands. Watching him, I held my breath, wondering if now
someone would claim us. But he mentioned the evacuation of American
citizens from the Virgin Islands in the same way he talked about the
evacuation of American citizens from St. Maarten and St. Martin. I took him
to mean: We are evacuating the real Americans from these foreign Caribbean

Nowhere did he note that we should be concerned about this American land,
because it *is*American land. Has been for 100 years.

In the continental United States there has been little coverage of this
centennial of Virgin Islands Americanness. In Transfer Day ceremonies in
March, the Danish flag again went slowly down in the Virgin Islands and the
American flag went soaring up. All this year Virgin Islanders have been
marking our Americanness with such exercises of memory, but it is a bitter
celebration. When we Virgin Islanders leave the Virgin Islands for the
mainland, we find that we are immigrants in our own country.

As we have over the last 100 years, we ask again, with this storm: What
kind of Americans are we? Are we part of a multitiered system of
Americanness? Do the real Americans know about this? Are you, real
Americans, O.K. with this? It doesn’t seem particularly American to me.

My son, Nazareth, was born in New York City, but baptized in the Virgin
Islands. He turned 1 year old on the same day that the Virgin Islands
turned 100. I want for him what I want for any American —
self-actualization, his rights granted and upheld, finding the love of his
life and maybe marrying that person on a beach on St. Thomas.

He is an American and a Virgin Islander, which are the same thing. The
history of the Virgin Islands is part of American history. And now, what
happens in the Virgin Islands is happening in America. Before Hurricane
Irma hit the continental United States, it had already affected at least
100,000 Americans. Not tourists visiting islands. Just 100,000 Americans,
living in America’s paradise, the United States Virgin Islands.
*lisaparavisini <http://repeatingislands.com/author/lisaparavisini/>* |
September 13, 2017 at 8:50 am | Categories: News
<http://repeatingislands.com/category/news/> | URL: http://wp.me/psnTa-xth

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