So, it’s the 4th of July. I always find myself toeing the line between honestly and freely expressing my discontent with America and coming across like an ungrateful whiner. The fact is, as an American, I have been granted immense privilege and opportunity that I could have very well not had otherwise. This was just an accident of my birth. I did nothing to be granted this privilege and I will pass it along to my [foreign-born] child (though I must admit I had reservations about it).
Nationalism is something that confounds me. I never understood identifying first and foremost as being from a particular place. To me it seems that where we come from is just the beginning of our story and does not have to have any bearings on the middle or end. Our provenance most certainly affects who we are and how we see the world, but it is not the only thing that does. Hopefully.
Patriotism is something I can more easily wrap my head around, though the definition seems to vary depending on who you ask. If patriotism means wanting what is best for your country and its citizens then I am a patriot. If patriotism means blind support of your country, I most certainly am not.
There is so much to love about America. Have you seen her? She’s beautiful. Amber waves of grain and what not. When my husband and I drove cross-country from Columbus to Seattle, we took the route that brought us through South Dakota and Wyoming. I’ll never forget driving through Wyoming and feeling something swell in my chest that I’d never experienced before. I felt immense love for my country. For her beautiful land and vast expanses. I’d always felt grateful to be born in a country with the freedoms of America, but I had never before felt such pride and love for the land itself. Of course, I immediately had to consider how Americans themselves, through their obsession with individual rights and shortsightedness on all matters having to do with conservation of natural resources, are ruining this very land they claim to love so much.
Yes, to be an American, particularly an American living abroad, is to constantly balance between showing the appropriate amount of respect for your country and its leaders while also maintaining an ability to see your country through the eyes of the citizens of the world. It is perhaps the myopic vision of so many Americans who see America as the center of the universe and the “best” at everything that frustrates me the most. Anybody who, with an open mind, spends a considerable amount of time outside of the US can plainly see that we do some things right, but many things wrong. We are the leader in many things, but should perhaps be the follower in more. Some countries do some things way, way better than we do. But in some things, we’re tops, it’s true.
In other words, America is just like EVERYTHING ELSE in this entire world: unique, individual, flawed, and dynamic. It is this last trait that gives me the most hope. The fact that things are constantly changing and evolving is something that allows me to have faith in my country and my fellow countrypersons.
The founding fathers had a vision for America and Americans that we haven’t quite lived up to. Good news is, we’re still young. We have plenty of time to evolve, to grow, to change, and to become better and better.
So, happy 236th birthday, America!