When I was in middle school 9/11 happened. I remember where I was and how I felt. Snapshots of that day are clear and play like a movie in my head. I happened to be taking a journalism class at the time. I wrote a piece for the school newspaper about the importance of patriotism. My aunt even sent me a framed copy, she was so proud.
Leading up to the fourth of July, I kept thinking about that girl and that piece. She was heartbroken by the pain she saw around her and called for everyone to take one tiny action. So much and so little has changed since then. I am still heartbroken by the pain that I see around me and still do my best to encourage tiny actions.
A main difference between that girl and I is that I don’t feel proud of my citizenship status. I feel lucky, but know that this country is not great biased on merit. As Dave Chappellle once said, “…it’s great by default…” Living near the US-Mexico border for almost a decade, my perspective about citizenship changed. I couldn’t make sense of how unfair it all was. If I had been born a few hours south my life would be drastically different.
What’s so special about this country and why should I celebrate it? How can I celebrate it? The history of this place is full of warmongering, hate, pain, theft and ugliness. We are also on the verge of repeating history in the worst way. I wonder if people will begin fleeing into Mexico to escape the violence and hatred of this country.
I feel grateful to be born in a place where I can voice these thoughts. I feel grateful to be safe (for the most part). I feel grateful for an abundance of food. For these and other reasons, I am grateful to be a citizen of the US. Grateful, but not proud.
My pride in this identity has died I think. Shame overtook what space I had for pride. I wish things were different, but my heart is heavy with shame.
I wonder what that girl would say to me. A girl who encouraged her classmates to put up flags and donate money, a girl who encouraged allegiance. I don’t know that she would like my thoughts about The Pledge of Allegiance, she wanted her classmates to make with more fervor.
I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
I appreciate its possibility, but we are a fractured divisive mess. We do not stand together. We do not stand for much of anything anymore. Liberty is being covered up by rhetoric and a cult of personality. While I wish there might truly be justice for all, we don’t even have justice for the few.
Maybe we have always been this way and I am just now seeing it. Maybe I am being a bit spoiled and ungrateful. Maybe my heart just can’t take more disappointment. It refuses to accept that this is the best we can do.
The girl I used to be called for tiny actions and encouraged pride. I think she was trying to encourage unity. She wanted her classmates and the adults around her to remember the pain of others and come together around their shared identity as Americans.
My heart only has shame for the actions of this country I was born into. I can only call for those around me to consider why I might feel this way. For the many that also have hearts full of shame we can no longer stand by tiny actions. If pride is going to find its way back to us, we have to band together and take action.
Looking at the author who wrote The Pledge of Allegiance does give me some hope. He was a man who fought against the injustice he saw in the world. He fought for workers rights and choose to be open to immigrants during a time when so many let fear get the best of them. This man chose the words he wrote carefully.
Since he knew of the injustice of this place, I wonder if the pledge was aspirational. If that truly is the case, it gives me hope. Maybe we might one day become the country Francis Bellamy dreamed. Maybe we might one day truly be great based on merit rather than lack of competition. On that day I will be proud, until then I’ll get to work.