Stars and Stripes as Symbols of Pride and Weapons of Hate

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The crops are all in and the peaches are rotting,
The oranges piled in their creosote dumps;
They’re flying ’em back to the Mexican border
To pay all their money to wade back again

Goodbye to my Juan, goodbye, Rosalita,
Adios mis amigos, Jesus y Maria;
You won’t have your names when you ride the big airplane,
All they will call you will be “deportees.”

Woody Guthrie, Deportees

Credit: Creative Commons


I am struck this week by the juxtaposition of images: one where soccer (football) fans exaltedly and with a sense of pride lifted and feverishly waved the Stars and Strips to cheer on their team at the 2014 FIFA World Cup playoffs in Brazil, the other where U.S. citizens wrathfully and with a sense of scorn lifted and viciously waved those same Stars and Strips to protest and banish Homeland Security bureau buses carrying migrant children and families in Murrietta, California from entering a Border Patrol processing center in their community. Eventually, protesters forced the three busses to turn around and drive back to the Border Patrol facility in San Diego.

Credit: Creative Commons


People on the busses had undergone long and brutal, often deadly, journeys through hot and barren deserts fleeing from crime and poverty in their Central American countries only to experience the cruel lie that Emma Lazarus’s call to “Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddles masses yearning to breathe free” does not apply to people with brown or black skin.
Watching the protesters on my television screen brought back painful memories of witnessing the racial strife erupting like a volcano covering Boston and its suburbs with its lava of bigotry during its history of mandatory bussing from 1974 – 1988 to achieve public school racial integration. One photograph in particular captured the depth of racial prejudice in our city. In horrifyingly stark terms, a white man, enraged expression covering his face, gripped a long pole carrying the American flag as if he were wielding a sharp spear lunged toward a black man who was seized and held by another white man.

Credit: Creative Commons


Though raising and standing behind the very same flag, the drastic difference between the cheering fans and the jeering protesters represents a difference between “patriotism” and “nationalism” — with the corresponding concepts of “patriotic” and “nationalistic” — terms sometimes used interchangeably, but terms that are actually unique and distinct.
A definition of “patriotism”: a love for or devotion to one’s country, and a definition of “nationalism”: loyalty and devotion to a nation; especially: a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups.
While the United States is a beautiful nation holding a noble concept, a vibrant idea, a vital and enduring vision, as a country, it remains still a work in process progressing toward but not yet attaining, not yet reaching that concept, that idea, that vision. And this is possibly what separates the patriot from the nationalist, for the patriot understands and witnesses the divide, the gap between the reality and the promise of their country and its people. The nationalist, though, is often not aware that a gap even exists between the potential and the reality.
I interpret a true patriot to be a person who, indeed, loves their country (though not necessarily viewing it as “exceptional”), but also one who sees the way things are, and one who attempts to make change for the better. A patriot also views other countries with respect and admiration, as valued members of an interconnected and interdependent world community.
My vision of a patriot is one who embraces John F. Kennedy’s challenge by asking not what their country can do for them, but rather asking what they can do for their country. A patriot, indeed, sees things the way they are and tries to make them better. A nationalist…. I will leave it to you to complete the final sentence.