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Grade
10

I put my hand on my heart and face the American flag, crimson and blue and scattered with stars.

My uniform bunches under my arms. It’s too big, but whenever I tell Ma, she continues doing whatever she’s doing—usually making dinner, tossing the garlic and tofu in the wok—and says, it last longer. So we save money.

I keep rolling up my shirt, but even as I tuck it in, it flaps out.

“Stop moving,” a girl says to me. “It’s annoying.”

“I’m sorry,” I say.

Mrs. Roberts claps. “Time for the pledge of allegiance!”

The class begins reciting, “I pledge allegiance—” I try to make each word follow a honey-smooth rhythm, but they stumble out of my mouth, coming out in spurts like toothpaste.

So I speak quietly instead, feeling the ba-dum, ba-dum pulsing beneath my palm. I pretend I can feel the words sinking back into my throat and winding down all the layers of pipes into my heart, where they’ll be spread throughout my body like oxygen, like blood.

I say the words as if they’ll make me American.

But it’s hard when the girl whispers, “Why are you saying the pledge? You’re not even from here.”

State
CA
Zip Code
90077