The Fourth of July is upon us, and emotions are running high towards the land of the free and home of the brave. From the most monumental (such as the Senate GOP health care bill) to the most petty (President Donald Trump’s latest offensive Twitter antics), there is plenty of news to create American frustration, anger, and even embarrassment towards our “great” country.
For social liberals like myself, this holiday is often an annual teeth-gritting session as our peers gloat about the glory of a country whose society puts every sexual, racial, and religious minority at a heavy disadvantage. We watch and guiltily partake in barbecues and fireworks as we mentally bemoan the news story we read yesterday and the pending legislation we know to be waiting in Congress. I know that one year I participated more enthusiastically in Canada Day (free health care AND Justin Trudeau… what’s not to celebrate?!) than I did the Fourth.
But let us pause before we plunge into another tirade about the disgrace of the holiday. This year, when social justice seems to be held in the lowest regard yet by our leadership, let us stop to consider: what is patriotism?
According to Merriam-Webster, patriotism is “love for or devotion to one’s country”. I know that I personally have been an adamant critic of our nation’s leaders, many American policies, and more than a few of my fellow citizens. However, I realized recently that I must learn to separate president from country, national legislation from national values, and what many consider the contemporary American image from the American spirit.
You see, the America I love is not Donald Trump’s America. I do not feel patriotism for a country that funded segregation and started wars. I am not devoted to an image of a white man in his truck, with his case of beers, AK-47, and fist in the air as he chants “build that wall!”
The country I love had nearly 2.9 million more people vote against Donald Trump than for him. I feel patriotism for the nation that fought to end discrimination, the nation that marched on Washington during every war, and the nation that continues to stand up against every cruel injustice we see today. I am devoted to the America that is made up of every race, sexuality, gender, and belief system.
I don’t love this country in spite of being a social liberal. I love it because I am a social liberal.
I am able to hold my government responsible for everything that I see wrong with it; I am able to protest issues and write about what I want to fix (and how I want to fix it). I have come to realize that true patriots do not claim that their country is perfect; rather, they acknowledge the flaws in their country and do everything in their power to fix them. Patriots love their country so much that they let nothing stop them from creating positive change in it. A patriot recognizes the true value of the First Amendment- how incredibly precious the freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and petition are-and never takes it for granted, instead carrying it to its fullest potential. If we carry over Merriam-Wesbter’s “patriotism” definition to the word “patriot”, what do we find? An American patriot is someone who “loves” his or her country-a home with a founding principle that gives its citizens the ability to make it better- and is “devoted” to doing just that.
Decades ago, my immigrant parents and grandparents came to this country in the hope of a better life. They believed in the idea of the “American dream” just like so many others. My mother’s side fled war and oppression on one continent; my father’s left behind poverty and closed-mindedness on another. They came to a country that was far from perfect; in fact, it was so far from perfect that they found building the lives they dreamed of to be much more difficult than it should have been. As an Indian immigrant, my father faced discrimination from his high school years, throughout his college education, his medical school, fellowship, residency, and professional career. Growing up, my mother endured cultural conflict between her home and society; she faced every gender-based disadvantage a woman in America could encounter; she worked three jobs at a time to pay her way through the college education she was determined to have. But despite these challenges, my parents found a way to come together and create a life of happiness and comfort for themselves and their family. Even more importantly, they drew upon those challenges to impress values of social consciousness and cultural appreciation into their children. They raised two mixed-race, nonreligious, young girls: two patriots who love their country, but see its potential to be even better and want to work to make it so.
That is what I’m celebrating this Fourth of July.