Besides Amanda Gorman’s poem, the art at the Biden-Harris inauguration that most moved me was Jennifer Lopez singing “This Land Is Your Land.” I was surprised to hear this folk song amidst the pomp of the formal ceremony. I recognized the significance of it being sung by a woman born to Puerto Ricans in the Bronx, but what made tears come to my eyes was realizing that this song has framed my concept of belonging in the United States since I was a child.
I first heard the song when I was in early elementary school. This is the verse I have always remembered:
This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York island
From the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me.Woody Guthrie
Then, I knew only that the closest beach to my Birmingham, Alabama, hometown was on the Gulf of Mexico and that California was very far away. Soon afterward, I learned that redwoods were some of the oldest trees in the country. Much later, I grasped the influence of New York on national and international culture.
In my adulthood, I have visited everywhere mentioned in this verse. I volunteered, interned, and worked in Manhattan during the years I lived in Long Island and Brooklyn. My honeymoon was at the Gulf Islands National Seashore. I fulfilled my childhood dream of seeing the redwoods, which was inspired by the song, when my husband and I spent our 2nd anniversary in a campervan at Redwood National and State Parks. It was my first trip to California, and we also visited loved ones in Santa Cruz, San Francisco, Sacramento, and Chico.
When listening to the song at the 2021 inauguration, it dawned on me that I do believe this land is mine. I recognize that my claim to this land descends from colonists who became colonizers as they violently took land from Native Americans and broke treaties with them for centuries. Although many of my ancestors were brought to this land as property, although discriminatory laws and practices have caused suffering for generations of my family, and although I face underrepresentation in my industry and in images of my aspirations, I still believe this land is mine to explore and to work to make better.