When I turned 18, I registered to vote as soon as I could. We were in the middle of Operation Iraqi Freedom and I drove a beat up, spray-painted pickup truck with a “NO W” sticker on the back. At that time, I wasn’t sure how things could get much worse politically in my lifetime. When I was young my parents told me that we had learned from mistakes like Vietnam and that we wouldn’t go to war like that again. Never in a million years did I imagine that I would be signing up for the draft at a time when – although unlikely – we would be the closest to using it since Vietnam.
I am not one of those people who romanticizes our brave men and women. To be honest I think it is disrespectful. In my opinion, most of the people who do have never had any intention of joining the military. Besides an adolescent dream of flying a fighter jet, neither did I. I wasn’t cut out to be a soldier, but at least I can admit it. The way so many people brandish an overly simplified version of our military to make themselves seem more “patriotic” is disgusting to me. I rarely see these people stand up for those who suffer once they get home and in many cases, I’ve seen many of them turn on the same people they flaunted when they realize that not every soldier fits their red, white, and blue fantasy. Supporting isn’t support when it’s used as compensation for something you lack.
I grew up near a town that was full of those type of people. They would shoot at my truck with paintballs and try to run me off the road when I was on my bike. They even mocked my French heritage at times when France voted not to invade Iraq. Despite the strong feelings of the people that surrounded me, I still proudly supported a change and displayed my Kerry/Edwards bumper stickers on that same pickup truck. Friendships became strained and discussions with people close to me were, at times, intense. We were in a recession and I felt like there was no way that I would ever see the country I lived in become even more divided and crippled than it was at that time.
Then I turned 22 and everything was turning around. I caucused for Barack Obama and eventually watched as history was made the night he defeated a well-respected man by the name of John McCain. Perhaps it was Senator McCain’s Alaskan blunder that inevitably did him in, but regardless, history was made and I personally felt like hope had returned to the country. You see, although Obama wasn’t perfect and made decisions that I was not a fan of, he still represented a different part of the population than any of his predecessors had. The same things his critics hated about him resonated with many of us. While the Tea Party was worried about his Kenyan ties, many of us, who are immigrants or children of immigrants, related to the fact that he wasn’t the cookie cutter version of what an “American” was supposed to be. He was the realistic version of an American and I think that scared people who were too caught up in phony nostalgia. Sort of the same way Christians depict Jesus in a certain way while ignoring what he actually would have looked like.
Many things evened out during Obama’s tenure and the economy did start to pick up. Along with that, healthcare in America took a step in the right direction- despite its flaws – and large leaps toward gender and LGBTQ+ equality were made as well. We all know what happened from there. The history that was made didn’t do much to eradicate the racist history of this country. Probably because racism in this country isn’t actually a part of history, but instead part of its culture, whether it’s conscious or subconscious. This eventually led to the unthinkable when Donald Trump won the electoral vote in 2016 stunning the majority of the country.
I have written several opinion pieces here with my feelings about Donald Trump. Every time I worry about what is okay and what might be perceived as “unpatriotic” or “anti-American”. I was born here. I am a United States citizen. I am just as American as any self-proclaimed “patriot”, but I don’t fit the American caricature. I still have family members that speak a language other than English. I have interests that differ from the American stereotype. I grew up with ice hockey and curling. I celebrate two Thanksgivings and although I am a terrible soccer player, I share more heritage with Cristiano Ronaldo, Olivier Giroud, Marco Reus, Harry Kane, and Eden Hazard than I do Aaron Rodgers and Carson Wentz.
I don’t want to be labeled as unpatriotic, so this year has been confusing and difficult for me. How do I communicate my feelings about celebrating America in 2018 without it being skewed as anti-American? How do I express my disappointment without being called a “snowflake”?
The truth is that I can’t. There will be people who will twist my words until it fits their extremely narrow-minded vision of the U.S.A. and will find a way to demean and invalidate my opinion. When it all comes down to it, the real question I have to ask is, how can I celebrate independence and asylum from religious oppression while under a leadership that has made those things nearly impossible to others?
Over 2,000 migrant children have been separated from their parents, but I am supposed to fly the flag as if nothing has changed? Potentially more than 4,000 Puerto Ricans, who are US citizens, have died because of the lack of response from FEMA and the Federal government to aid in the recovery from Hurricane Maria, but I am supposed to enjoy the fireworks just the same as always?
Many of these questions are hard to ask, but I refuse to subscribe to the ever popular movement that ignorance is bliss. These troubled times have made me question everything. I know that I love this country, but new headlines spark deeper thoughts regarding how this country came to be in the first place. It’s not pretty. It’s nothing to celebrate, and in many ways, it is downright cruel. I can’t do anything about that though, what’s done is done and this is what we have. Despite our origins, we’ve accomplished some truly amazing things. I do believe that. It’s impossible to find a nation without a dark side. The problem, however, is when you don’t learn from those mistakes.
I don’t have the perfect answer to immigration. Nobody does. There is no such thing as perfect, but if we truly understand and learn our history rather than paint over it with a ridiculous manifestation of a country that has never actually existed, perhaps we can find solutions rather than bleed hypocrisy. There were plenty of suggestions from both sides of the political fence that would have been much more diplomatic than what we are witnessing right now, but an egregious case of national entitlement and a diluted version of our past produced xenophobic hysteria that I am confident will one day be taught as a serious black eye on the history of the United States.
It is okay to question your feelings this Independence Day. It doesn’t mean you don’t love your country. True love doesn’t support blindly. True love is honest. True love challenges wrongs and holds onto hope that one day the best will be brought out.
Editor in Chief of Lemonade Magazine
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