July 4th was three days ago. I generally consider myself a very patriotic person but objectively speaking it’s a weird time to be an American. Things happen, almost everyday now, that I’m not proud of. Leaders, or future leaders, of our country say things that I’m not proud of. But I will always be proud to be american, even when I’m not proud of some things America is doing.
As some of you may know from my other posts I have the privilege to teach English to students from all over the world. And for our weekend activity this week we took them to the city fireworks show. I made a new friend and had fun explaining to her all the different things around us that were so distinctly American; the food, the games, and the songs each with their own special and different meaning.
One of my coworkers had made a comment to me a few days earlier that we should probably brace ourselves for all the “Make America Great Again” hats and shirts we’d surely be seeing. I had laughed and cringed and probably said something snarky in response. But thinking about it now, I didn’t see any political material for either candidate at the event. Not one flyer, or t-shirt, or poster. It was nice.
I sat, surrounded by my students and friends from all over the world, and felt that swelling in your heart that only the love of one’s own country can bring. And it wasn’t diminished by the fact that almost everyone I talked to that night wasn’t an American. In fact, it was all the more special to share my country with people who would seek to make it their home, even if just for a while. We don’t need to make America great again, America is already great.
People have left their countries, their families, their cultures simply for the possibility of a better life. Why would we not want to embrace such courage and tenacity? That’s what being an American is. It means that you value the opportunity for success while recognizing the fact that failure is always a possibility. Americans work hard, we care deeply about personal liberties and we try, how ever messy and ugly it ends up, to help when the world needs it.
I took a class called Politics of Immigration and became friends with one of my classmates who was an exchange student from Singapore. And I remember sitting in a cafe, eating cheesecake, and talking about the idea of American exceptionalism. Yes that’s the kind of thing we talk about casually over coffee and cheesecake, poli-sci students are an odd breed.
(As someone who teaches english and wants to do so in a foreign context I sometimes have a hard time thinking about english imperialism. I don’t think that english should be the only language in the world much like I don’t think America is necessarily the best country in the world. Just a disclaimer.)
Anyway, I remember her telling me how interesting it is the way that our classmates discuss foreign affairs. We talk about international problems with this binary outlook of “will we, or will we not get involved.” I remember her saying something to the effect of, “you guys feel like its your duty to step in when a problem arises. There aren’t really any other countries like that. American is special, and the American attitude is special.”
But I digress.
As I sat there watching the fire works I heard myself singing the line, “I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free.” The world is a difficult place and a lot of very hateful things are happening in American right now. We are not perfect, we never were, and we never will be. But I will never be embarrassed to say where I’m from. I will always be proud and at least, even if there’s nothing else left, at least I know I’m free.