President Barack Obama (SQUEE!) November 5, 2008Posted by Sparkel in food for thought.
For as long as I can remember I have felt proud to be an American.
Granted I haven’t been to too many other places, so my perspective of what America is and what it means to its citizens and the rest of the world has been sheltered at best. In fact, it wasn’t until I began dating M, who immigrated to the U.S. from El Salvador when he was 12, that my patriotism began to waver a bit.
The 2004 election sparked many a political debate between M and I. Many of the debates were not about the election as much as they were about the U.S. in general. M is of the opinion that, while he is fortunate for the opportunities this country has given him and his family, the U.S. is faaaar from perfect.
M was born in the midst of the civil war El Salvador experienced from 1980 until 1992. He was raised in the slums of San Salvador by a mother who was doing her best to care for her five children after her husband fled to the U.S. for fear that he, like so many other men who opposed the government, would be killed. M did not meet his father until he moved to the states, after his family had been on the waiting list for eleven years. His eldest brother and sister, who were under 18 when his father first petitioned to bring them to the U.S., were well over 18 by the time they were allowed to move here, so they had to stay. M’s family moved into a one bedroom apartment and tried their best to learn the language and make ends meet.
When M first told me this story, and recounted stories of his family huddling in a bedroom with no windows for days at a time while bombs were heard from outside, and of hearing guns and witnessing immense poverty, I commented “wow, you must have felt lucky to come here then.”
I will never forget the incredulous, angry look on his face. He snapped “well, considering the U.S. played a pretty large part in the war, no, not really. We didn’t have much of a choice. A lot of people didn’t and still don’t because the country is still recovering in a lot of ways.”
I said “what are you talking about? It’s not the U.S.’s fault if your country had a civil war.”
He scoffed and said “it is when they sent weapons to the side that served their best interest and looked away while innocent people were massacred.” He then began to go on a long tirade about South and Central America, the dictators the U.S. has supported, the leaders and opposers they fought against, and the (oftentimes willful) ignorance of the people living in this country who are not taught any of this. About his personal hero, Che Guevara, the history of Cuba, and the role of the CIA in that.
M is, with the exception of my father, the most intelligent person I have ever known. He is fair, he is well-read and well-informed on politics and issues. He is observant. And he has yet to make an observation that I don’t, in some way, shape or form, agree with or respect. He was the first person I talked to who felt the opposite way about this country, who saw it more for its faults than its attributes. And he taught me things, things I had never heard before. And when I skeptically looked things up expecting to get in his face all “AHA!!!,” he was always, always right. Some of the most enlightening conversations I’ve had about this country are with him and with my friend Anna, who lived in Russia as a child. At first I was furiously angry and defensive. Many arguments ended with M saying “you really need to read more before you form opinions.”
So I began to. I read newspaper articles from other countries. I read anti-U.S. opinions. And while I haven’t agreed with everything, I’ve sadly had to agree with some things.
If you can read “A People’s History of the United States” and not feel just the teeniest bit ashamed, you have a harder heart than me. I read books by African American authors such as Richard Wright, or Frederick Douglass, and finally went beyond my previous logic of “slavery ended years ago… segregation ended too…what is there to feel angry about?”
The way I feel about this country now is the way I imagine a parent must feel when their child, their pride and joy, who showed all the promise in the world of great things to come, goes away to college, gets hooked on heroin, then comes home to steal your TV and pawn it for drug money. Would I still love that child? Of course. But would I feel proud? Would I look on and say “aw, what a swell kid! Look how determined she is to make money!”
But if that child began to reform. Began to behave better. Began to do the right thing, I would be proud again.
I am not proud that this country has a history of helping those who serve its best interest. I am not proud of the war in Iraq. (And I have three cousins who have served there, one of whom is going to Afghanistan next year, so don’t tell me it’s because I don’t support the troops. I very, very much do.) I am not proud of how long this country, and the UN has half-assed its support while Darfur has been ravaged by genocide, something the Geneva Convention is supposedly vehemently against. I am not proud of the many who declared that Barack Obama would not make a good president, but instead is a man to fear because he is supposedly Muslim. I am not proud of the many who feel that “redistribution of wealth”=socialism, and complain about the tax cut they’ll see when they already make more than their share. If Warren Buffet and even Oprah, who will pay one helluva lot more in taxes under Obama’s plan than you or me or anyone else thinks it’s good enough for them, then holy fucking hell, it’s good enough for me. I am not proud of the greed. I am not proud of the arrogance. I am not proud of the racism. I am not proud of the declarations of “i’M MORE AMERICAN THAN YOUUUU, NEENER!!”
I am proud of this country because I am free, and I feel free. I feel proud of this country for selfish reasons, number one being that I like my life. I have a house, enough food, an education, and open doors. I recently read about Rafael Trujillo, the former dictator of Dominican Republic who severely oppressed his people, and all I could think was “I feel so lucky that I can’t even imagine what that would be like.” I feel proud of this country because of the aid it offers to those in need around the world. I feel proud of this country for how we stood together after 9/11. I feel proud of this country for the strides we’ve made, for the progress we’ve made.
And I now feel more proud of this country than I have in a while because my children will never think it’s strange that a black man is president. I was filled with hope and pride throughout Obama’s campaign. I agree with his policies, I admire his reserved nature and his desire to learn and listen and ask questions, and I think he will be one helluva good president. I beamed with pride when I voted for Obama yesterday, I sobbed with joy when he became our new president, and I grinned like a fool when I saw pictures and footage of the world celebrating with us.
I’ve come full circle, and for today I am 100% proud to be an American.