On the Fourth of July, the Stars and Stripes will flutter from my balcony again. My flag has been in storage for the last three years.
Its absence doesn’t mean that I’m any less patriotic; in fact, I’m now more involved in the public discourse than ever before.
My family fled Vietnam and communism in the mid-1970s. My parents became naturalized citizens when I started high school. My father, a proud Galvestonian for the rest of his life, unfailingly displayed the flag on all holidays.
Once I had my own home, I got a bigger flag. Partly to honor his memory, but the overwhelming reason was simply because I felt the same sense of pride.
Since January 2017, I’ve stored the flag, and I’m ashamed of my ambivalence. Do I not feel the same visceral allegiance and love of country? What happened to the pride that I had? My conflicted feelings came slowly.
It began when I saw Old Glory flying next to the Confederate banner in Charlottesville and builds when I see it on the T-shirt of someone wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat and chanting anti-immigrant slogans.
I look askance when I see the flag as a sticker on a pick-up truck next to one that says, “Build the Wall.” All of these link the flag to the chasm that is engulfing our country; it ties the flag to a nationalist, xenophobic, hateful rhetoric that I intellectually know isn’t inherent in the American character. But I can’t help it that my emotions tie them together.
I desperately want to find the common decency and civility which define my America. I want to feel tears of pride blurring my vision and a lump choking my throat when I belt out the national anthem at a baseball game.
This Independence Day, I reject the pessimism that my fellow Americans, with Old Glory on their T-shirts, may harbor resentment that people like me don’t really belong here.
I am taking the flag back. I don’t want the bigots to co-opt this symbol for which our forefathers sacrificed so much. Yes, it’s our forefathers. Although their blood may not course through my veins, their ideals are woven into the fabric of my character. Those of us who are ashamed at the current state of our country are still proud Americans. To love this country is not to accept it as it is, but to work to make it as it was meant to be.
Isn’t that what we’re taught? In church, it’s “hate the sin, but love the sinner.” To those who yell “go back to your country,” I say that I am already there.
Although I don’t physically resemble the men and women who built this country, I resemble them even more so in my conviction and belief that America is a nation like no other and that the ideas of equality, justice and freedom transcend any one race, ethnicity, gender or creed.
Happy Fourth of July, America.