This past weekend in New York City, Puerto Rican flags were ubiquitous. The streets were flooded with red, white and blue on people, cars and everything else. Spanish music played all around. The Puerto Rican Day parade was a grand affair with the likes of Ricky Martin as well as some of the presidential hopefuls marching down Fifth Avenue. I like the celebratory atmosphere and the sense of community that I see in such events. A strong sense of group identity and pride can be a beautiful thing. The festivities of the weekend and the upcoming Fourth of July festivities got me to thinking about my own sense of patriotism and pride in my nation.Several years ago I worked at a summer camp. Our morning routine included a flag ceremony and reciting of the pledge. I remember feeling dismayed at the chit-chat that occurred during the raising of the flag and even during the pledge. One day I happened upon a couple of camp counselors who had just lowered the flag for the evening. They had a rock and were using the flag to toss it in the air and catch it again. This was another of the very few instances in which my outrage overcame my timidity, and I gave them a lecture about proper respect for the flag after which I huffily marched myself to the camp director and let him know about the flagrant disrespect of our country occurring on the camp grounds. (Yes, I was very self-righteous. I’ve learned a thing or two since then, I hope).
Fast forward some years later . . . I happen to have a credit card that has a flag design on it. I didn’t choose it myself, it’s just what they sent. I’ve had it for a number of years, and thought it was pretty cool when I first had it. However, a few weeks ago as I handed it to a checker at a store, I suddenly felt a sense of embarrassment. I feel some shame about the war and am troubled by the attitude I see among some flag wavers that we are better than everyone else. I wasn’t sure I liked what the flag display might say about me as a person.
I value my heritage, and I really do think that the United States of America is a great country. More and more, though, I see myself as part of something larger. Other countries, and the people in them, are worthy and beautiful and good as well. I am a part of the great fabric of humanity. We’re all in this together. As the Fourth of July rolls around this year I’ll be thinking how to embrace a patriotism I can feel good about and at the same time embrace a feeling of kinship with all of us here on the earth.
How do you relate to patriotism?
*Three Flags by Jasper Johns