Wednesday, July 4, 2012

A love/hate relationship

It wasn't until I was a few years into elementary school that I fully comprehended the idea that we are not alone in this world. And by that I mean this world as in Earth, not this galaxy as in the Milky Way. In fact, I don't think it was until I made my first trip to Europe (more specifically, France) that I actually came to grips with the fact that America wasn't some lone entity floating in the galaxy.

Okay, perhaps that's an exaggeration. But you have to admit that even into our adulthood, many of us "Proud to be an American"-ers tend to forget that outside our insular world of barbecues and "Star-Spangled Banner," away from the giant SUVs and vehement opposition to universal healthcare, there exists a magical planet filled with people of varying skin types, languages, cultures, traditions, ideas, etc.

The concept of varied civilization becomes all the more shrouded on a day like today, when we do little but party among friends and proclaim how truly proud we are to be an American (I know I'm repeating that phrase, but considering how often it's repeated in this country, I think it's only appropriate. Maybe I'll even say it again later).

So, even though I feel much love for my country, and much enthusiasm for its history, on a day like July 4th I also can't help but feel some hints of embarrassment, maybe even disturbance. It's why I've so often contemplated the idea of moving to England, and why I often shy away from immersing myself in American political debates and social issues, preferring to watch the goings-on of foreign countries, not because it keeps me unaware of the problems here, but because at least the problems there are handle with more sophistication.

With that, I think I'll list a few of my favorite and least favorite things about being an American and growing up in this country. I'll start with the latter, so that we can end on a high note. I hope my negativity won't make anyone label me a Communist - not because I disagree with Karl Marx, but because the definition of a Communist is not someone who dislikes America.

Least Favorites

1. As I mentioned, one of the most frustrating things about growing up in America is the fact that we so often forget - as we live in this enormous country - that we aren't alone. As I was growing up, I could recite all the 50 states in alphabetical order, but ask me about the geography of any continent other than North America and I was lost. Once I did learn about different countries around the world - not until middle school, unfortunately - I understood all that I was missing out on. I think it was then that I really figured out that being American might not be all that the patriotic songs made it out to be.

2. What goes along with the singularity of this country is the overwhelming pride, almost to a fault. Americans display flags like its nobody's business, they wear pins and hats and bathing suits and underwear that display the pride for their country. When you're living here it becomes an annoyance, so I can't imagine what it must be like from the periphery. This goes along with a constant need of the country to set everything against itself - whether its politics or entertainment, culture or food. Americans love to proclaim their greatness, even when it's not exactly substantiated by fact. We adopt television programs and film ideas, even food products and so much else, pretending that what we have is so much better than what is offered elsewhere, though in some cases all we do is adapt.

3. Yet still we have this distressingly low patience for other cultures. Perhaps these two things go together, actually. A particularly obvious case is, as I mentioned, with television and movies that are adapted from foreign screens to their American versions. Just recently, I watched bits of American adaptations of the British shows Friday Night Dinner and The Inbetweeners. These are shows that did not need to be recreated for the American tube. They were perfectly fine as is, suitable for airing on BBC America or PBS or elsewhere. In the past, shows like The Office have also been stolen by American television - in my opinion this wasn't the most egregious error, since I love the American Office, but still the anger is sound - much to the chagrin of our European entertainment counterparts.

These choices, perhaps the fault of mainstream media producers in the United States, are a reflection of this American spirit - the one that believes what's produced here is somehow superior to what's created elsewhere, which is just not true. It's also the basis for our intolerance of those who don't speak English perfectly, or those who have different cultural backgrounds and traditions. For a country that likes to talk about its diversity, we really need to start embracing those varied groups.

1. Now that I've terrified you with my negativity about this wonderful country of ours, let me say what I do appreciate. Because I'm mixed race and come from very different racial backgrounds with their own distinctive traditions and eccentricities, I wholeheartedly believe that it's important to maintain a country-wide culture. Being an American is something, however blemished by a steadily worsening reputation, wholly unique and wonderful. When you say you're American, you are hinting at not only where you came from, but everything from where you travel to what languages you know to what comedy you enjoy. Despite our very distinct identities as a bunch of immigrants (yes, America, we're all immigrants), there is also a very community-driven aspect of being American. We feel pride in our roots within this country as well as outside of it. It's why most of us, when asked what nationality we are, will say "American" overseas, but within the country proudly proclaim the various ethnicities we are made up of.

2. Despite the bother it was in the later years of elementary school, going from learning our state's history to our country's history in two consecutive years (and then repeating the latter information again in middle school and high school), there is something wonderful about American history. Though it may not be as expansive as the drawn-out, battle-ridden stories of other countries, in our 236 year history, we've accomplished some pretty awesome things and have had some pretty great personalities to go along with those accomplishments. This was a place that was built from the ground up - with some inhumanity along the way, but since it's Independence Day I'll save that for another blog - and where so many people, organizations, belief systems, etc. have gotten their starts. Even if you shudder at being associated with this country, when you look back over 200 years you can't help but be proud to be an American (you knew I'd say it again).

3. Finally, I have to say that despite the fact that I can't quite stand American flags everywhere, I'm pretty fond of July 4th as a holiday. This is a day when you have to stop yourself from coordinating your outfit so that you're wearing red, white and blue. It's a day when you may not want to hear bunches of patriotic tunes, but when you do you feel a little bit happy about it. It's a day for reminding yourself of all the great traditions that go along with living in this country - the pride of turning 16 and getting your driver's license (though I'll admit this one was lost on me until I was 18), the goal of turning 21 and starting to drink (also lost on me, I have no interest in alcohol), the excitement of finally leaving the country when you've spent years being stuck in it. There are so many distinctly American experiences that make this country such a strong community despite it being so large and populated.

I whine a lot about how patriotism bugs me. But the truth is, there's good and bad to everything, American pride included. Though there are annoyances associated with living in this country and being strangled by the enthusiasm of your fellow citizens, there are also times when you just want to hold hands and sing "This Land is Your Land" with everyone within a 20-foot radius.

Because even when it is annoying, this land was made for you and me...and I can appreciate that just as much as the next person.

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