The Fourth of July – and a person’s mind turns to thoughts of ... getting out of the city and away from the heat. As the temperature rises, and a muggy shower weighs down the early evening air, illegal bottle rockets streak by my open window, and I think of the contradictions inherent in the celebration of what some call Manifest Destiny Day.
The talk show hosts have been livid about the “disrespectful” song that a Black, female jazz singer had the audacity to sing in place of the expected Star Spangled Banner at the Mayor’s State of the City speech. The Democrats thought they were ready to showcase the Queen City of the Plains to the world during their national convention in August but, wouldn’t you know, this “disrespectful” song set back the agenda a bit; the sound of the gears turning in the minds of the political power-brokers was screechy and labored as they tried to gauge the damage the singer did to the city’s image and to the long-range chances of the presumptive Democratic candidate.
All of this on top of recent metro-area shoot-outs, including in LoDo, the hot spot for bar-hopping and general revelry and the likely dumping place of barrels of money that Democrats will throw away during their convention. And these weren’t just “bang, you’re dead” shootings; these were O.K. corral, shotgun and semi-automatic weapons, running through the streets, high-speed chase rumbles; the kind of incidents that required the Mayor to remind everyone that Denver does not put up with this stuff, not even for a day.
Yeah, the holiday caught Denver with its pants down, so to speak, but I don’t want the headlines to get in the way of some serious contemplation about this day, and what it means to me, and friends. So I asked my comrades here on La Bloga to contribute a few lines on the topic of what does patriotism mean to me? Because they are always willing to help, and they have gracious, generous hearts, I am pleased to present their insightful, moving, and right-on-target words that shine brighter than the rockets’ red glare.
Patriotism is a word so polluted and distorted by right wing forces that I hesitate to use it. But I love what this country offers, despite the lessons of history -- what it dreams, what it promises, and I celebrate the hidden history of everyday people of many colors who built mi America con sudor y sangre.
Our teenage son has had some serious health problems these last couple of years. His college plans have been somewhat derailed and life has been tough. But he's optimistic and we all have readjusted our sights in terms of how long it will take him to finish high school and move into college life. Chronic pain without a cure in sight isn't fun. But he is so excited that he can vote for the first time in November. He is energized and hopes that his vote will help elect a young, brilliant man into the White House. Our son is not blindly patriotic: he knows our country is facing some dire times and that one presidential candidate can't change everything. But he believes in the promise of our country and the importance of his vote.
René Colato Laínez
What is Patriotism? I guess love for la patria, the country. In the kindergarten reading program there is an entire unit about Patriotism. It is a good unit and children learned to love the flag, to share and
to live in democracy. All my students have Latino roots. Many have been born in the USA and others are from Mexico or Central America. One boy told me, “Teacher I love Mexico. I was born there and the
Mexican flag is cool. The eagle is eating a snake.” I decided to change the unit to fit my student needs. The unit is all about USA but my students have more than one country. Yes! We can be patriota for
two or more countries at the same time. I am from El Salvador and I also love my country flag and celebrate every September 15, El Salvador independence (And most Central American countries independence too) If we live in two cultures and speak two languages, can we be patriota for the two countries at the same time?
What being patriotic means to me? In the spirit of La Bloga, I liken this question to the perennial: What does being macho mean to you?
The stereotype macho is a mean, cussing, beer-swigging, womanizing pendejo who's looking for a fight. The patriotic counterpart looks much like our current President--a mean, bragging, accusatory, colonial alkie who's looking for his next war.
A "real man"--macho or otherwise--would be a caring cuss who can handle his drinking, be caring toward children and females, and consistently take care of his family financially, nurturing their company, focusing himself on their betterment.
Real American patriotism should advocate similar values: opting for diplomacy rather than aggression; engendering fraternity among its citizens rather than inciting intolerance; saving and investing in our well-being and betterment rather than squandering our wealth on military expenditures; garnering natural resources rather than exploiting them; caring for all citizens, rather than just those of one color or a high-income level; protecting our home planet rather than trashing it. A "real patriot" would stand for and support such things. At least, that's my take on this.
Flag Pin Patriotism
When I wear a suit, my lapel invariably sports a United States flag pin, that enamel on gold-colored metal pin that's become the latest symbol of vapid political bull roar.
"So-and-so's not patriotic because he doesn't wear a flag pin." "So-and-so deserves your vote because he wears a flag pin." "Oh yeah? Look, here's a photo of so-and-so and his lapel has no flag pin!!" "Well, your guy's a flag pin flip-flopper."
I wear my flag pin not to symbolize my patriotism but to bring back warm memories of when an evil-eyed fellow presented me with my own enamel stars and stripes as a challenge to my patriotism.
I was a guest at the Marriott across from the Phoenix AZ convention center, where the lobby featured placards welcoming the red-white-blue patriots milling near the bar. Walking past, I noticed this short-haired older fellow giving me the stink eye. That's something I'm accustomed to as white people like him often think a brown person like me doesn't belong in places like the Marriott lobby, unless I'm serving him a drink. I crinkled my eyes at him in a half smile and said nothing. I felt his burning glare into my back all the way into the elevator. When I did an about face to look out as the doors slid closed, sure enough, his scowling face looked in my direction but he quickly averted his eyes. I smiled at him anyway, and nodded to his chiffon-gowned wife.
The next day's trade show concluded and once again I walked into the lobby and once again it was malojo redux. Same guy and gowned-up wife, this time conversing with another couple whose backs were to me. My buddy nudged his pal who turned around to stare at me with the same squinty-eyed sour lips. As I came even with them, I did a column right detour and in two steps I was on them. My pal took a surprised step back into a potted palm tree. I nodded to the other fellow and smiled at the wives. "Good evening, Sir" and stepped nearer to Mr. Palm Tree. He stammered wide-eyed, cornered. He reached into his coat pocket, pulling out a small plastic envelope, and said, "Here, I suppose you wouldn't wear this."
I looked at the enamel flag pin in his outstretched hand. "Of course I'd wear it. I wore it for two years when I was in the U.S. Army." His eyes glazed over a bit.
Being sure to make skin-to-skin contact, I removed the clear plastic envelope from his opened palm. I turned the piece over and noted the adhesive label reading "Made in PRC". "Oh," I read, "made in the People's Republic of China. Red China." I smiled graciously, then added, "Interesting, don't you think?" I waited half a beat in his stunned silence, brandished the pin at him, and said, "Thank you, Sir."
Every time I wear my flag pin, I think about that pissed-off patriot's resentment, hoping this small lesson in semiotics still stings him as much as it tickles me.
About a week ago, my five-year-old grandson told my wife and I that we should vote for Barack Obama. We looked at each other, then at him. Flo asked, “Why should we vote for Obama?” “Because he’s smart,” Jaden answered, “and everyone says he’s nice.” We agreed that these were admirable qualities, and I wanted to believe that my grandson lived in a country where being nice and smart were enough to lead us into times of peace and prosperity, although I would settle for times of peace. I wanted to believe that, but I also accepted that I could not look at the world as a five-year old, that there are realities that need confronting. But wouldn’t it be great if nice and smart were all that was needed?
We talked about voting for a minute, then I mentioned that Jaden could not vote for Obama. “You have to be eighteen,” I pointed out. That did not sit well with the young boy. In fact, he got angry and insisted that he could vote. I acceded somewhat. “Well, yeah, you can vote like in class or with your friends, so you’re right, you can vote for Obama.” He kind of went along with that. I realized that I react the same way - anger, anguish, frustration - when I think that any of my rights are in jeopardy, threatened by forces that have no roots in my existence, much like a five-year old has to simply reject the negatives that tell him he can’t do something.
I catalog what I regard as my rights: to speak and think the way I want; to practice any faith or none at all; the right to be who I am, to model cultural pride and respect of my heritage to my grandson; to believe in peace and diversity and equality; to vote for the smartest and the nicest. There have been times in the history of this county when such things have been denied to whole groups of people, to nations and tribes, races and genders. And yet, here we are, July 4, 2008, celebrating the fact that we have that history and that there always have been grown-up Jadens who simply reject the negatives, and move us forward, kicking, screaming and crying, but still moving. Those are the patriots.