I’m not a big hot dog person, but I do enjoy a juicy stick of questionable meat on the Fourth of July. Just to be, you know, American.
I love the smell of burgers on a grill and freshly mowed grass and the necessary slurping of watermelon.
And then I love to play some cricket. The most un-American of sports, I know.
I don’t play cricket any other time of the year, but my brother started bringing his bat and wickets to family gatherings every summer, and now I feel like a Fourth of July celebration isn’t complete without it.
I think I like to play because I grew up in a country where girls can’t really play sports – at least not in public – and here in this land of the free I can play sports in public AND in shorts.
Now that’s worth celebrating.
Maybe I play to remember my life overseas and to embrace all the amazing things the world – and not just America – has to offer.
Or maybe I play simply to remind myself that I’m not a true-blooded American and that I appreciate my global citizenship as much as I do my U.S. passport.
My Problem with the Pledge of Allegiance
I was 10 the first time I went to school in America. The bell rang, but the teacher didn’t start class. All the kids stood up, turned their heads in the same mysterious direction, and started reciting a bunch of monotone gibberish with their hands over their hearts.
I stood up too and looked around. What the heck was going on? What sort of alien world had I landed in? Was this a school for robots?
I didn’t get answers to any of these questions.
Everyone sat down, and the teacher started class like nothing had happened.
Of course I eventually figured out that a long time ago Americans had written this thing called the Pledge of Allegiance that all the kids at school had to recite while gazing adoringly (or cluelessly) at the U.S. flag hanging in their classroom.
With hand over heart. In blind faith.
I never really thought about what this pledge thing meant, not even when I was back in the U.S. and going to high school. I was more concerned about social survival and trying to blend in so I wouldn’t look like that American who didn’t know how to be an American.
But at some point in high school, my brother convinced me to watch this Japanese anime movie called Grave of the Fireflies. I hated anime.
But I sat on the couch and balled my eyes out. It was the worst I had ever felt after watching a movie. Worse than Schindler’s List. Worse than a documentary about Anne Frank.
There are no heroes in Grave of the Fireflies, just two children trying to survive on their own after the United States firebombs Japan during WWII.
Spoiler alert: it doesn’t have a happy ending.
I haven’t watched it since because I haven’t felt like crying that hard at a tragedy that wasn’t mine.
Except it is my tragedy. And if you’re a human being, it’s your tragedy too.
Those totally unrealistic Japanese drawings with the huge eyes and lipless mouths? They made me cry because they tell the very realistic story of the children whose lives were destroyed by the same Republic for which the Stars and Stripes stand.
The flag I pledged my allegiance to as a kid was the same flag that sent those bombers flying over Japan, killing innocent families because of something their navy did in 1941.
The flag American kids still pledge allegiance to today is the same flag sending drones into Pakistan, killing innocent, cricket-loving kids because of something some terrorists did in 2001.
History repeats itself.
There is always an enemy. There are always patriots ready to retaliate.
My Problem with Patriotism
It turns out I have a problem with patriotism. I have a problem with a mindset that demands the world be divided on the lines of “us” vs. “them.” I have a problem pledging allegiance to a country that defends its freedoms by depriving people from other countries of their freedoms.
Freedom is as freedom does.
We may pledge from primary school our allegiance to a flag that represents liberty and justice for all, but I do not think we understand what that means. When we say “all” do we really mean “ALL”?
Or are Americans the only ones who deserve freedom?
It’s hard to feel patriotic when you imagine what the first European immigrants did to the Native Americans so they could claim this country for themselves. It’s not easy to be proud of a country that built its wealth off the backs of slaves.
And after watching Grave of the Fireflies, I’ll never understand how we built a nuclear bomb and then dropped it on an innocent civilization, no matter what their military did to us.
It makes me wonder how many people we’ve trampled over to secure our freedoms. And what freedom even means when it comes at the cost of another person’s freedom.
We’re quick to honor our veterans, our heroes, but what about the non-military, the non-extremist, the families who just want to live their lives in peace but happen to be living in the crosshairs of U.S. weapons?
Should we not honor the life we’ve taken from them too?
Don’t we also owe them for the freedoms we celebrate on the Fourth of July? For our right to have a say in who runs our country? For our opportunity to decide how we will learn and work?
For our freedom of speech that lets me write this on my blog without fearing that the government will incarcerate me, torture me, or kill me for expressing my opinion?
I love this country. I love this country in a way only people who didn’t grow up here can love it.
I love its smoothly paved highways, free public restrooms, clean water, and ever-convenient fast food that tastes oh-so-delicious. I love that I don’t have to be afraid of a government coup or of contracting diseases like polio. I love that my state is separate from my religion and that I can play cricket, in public, in shorts, whenever I want.
Maybe this year I should play to remember the people who don’t have these freedoms.
To remember that America isn’t the only place that matters.
And to remember the people (American and non-American) who have given their lives (voluntarily or not) so that I can eat hot dogs and play cricket on the Fourth of July.
What are you doing to celebrate your freedoms? And most importantly, why?