Am I Proud to Be an American?
“…where at least I know I’m free” -Lee Greenwood
America celebrated one of its more meaningful holidays (BYE Columbus Day) this past week, known as Veterans day. Many other countries were celebrating Armistice Day, and every news program on my international TV was full of waving flags, torches of honor, and powerful words of gratitude. But spending this American holiday abroad had me re-examining my complicated personal history with American pride, and moreover, what the word “pride” means in the year 2018.
I grew up with, what I’d consider to be, an average exposure to the American military. My grandfather was a veteran, having fought in both the Korean and Vietnam wars, and he had the diary entries, scars, and Purple Heart to prove it. As kids, we’d sit in the basement of my grandparents’ home and listen to his somewhat edited tales of war, guns and strategies. My “Poppy” was a proud man. But at eight years old, it was a bit difficult to understand the scale of war, so I just took these stories as a part of the routine of going to my Granna and Poppy’s house, and nothing more.
A few years later, at the age of 21, I traveled to Vietnam and my perspective of these stories shifted a bit. Slowly walking through the “War Remnants Museum” as it’s called, the scope of war began to sink in. How could it not when you’re staring at images of dead children? And suddenly I started to question what exactly it was about this slaughter that invoked a feeling of pride for Americans. (Bear with me here, this is not about disrespecting the lives lost in the Vietnam war.) Moreover I started to question if I was a proud American.
the name is striking
Vietnam War Remnants
As a child in the United States, upbeat Americana songs are drilled in to your head at every school assembly. They’ve got catchy lyrics, lots of field imagery, and most importantly, heavy usage of the words “freedom” and “pride.” These lyrics multiplied ten-fold when I had the incredible honor of auditioning, and being accepted into the USO Show Troupe in New York.
perks of the job
For those who don’t know, the USO Show Troupe is the official entertainment group of the United States’ largest military non-profit organization. Basically, it’s a bunch of crazy-talented folks (in sequins) with broadway credits, and angel voices, who spend their time between show contracts, singing and dancing for the troops. The Show Troupe travels everywhere around the world. If there’s a military base, the troupe will go. I had the great pleasure of going to Alaska, California, and approximately seventeen middle-American veteran’s hospitals with the Show Troupe, during my few years as a proud member. It was truly the most rewarding job I’ve ever had, and had it been a full-time gig, I gladly would’ve stayed in New York for it.
In my two years with the Show Troupe, I learned more about sacrifice (from the military families. Not our somewhat busted sound system), than I think some people learn in a lifetime. And holy moly, if you want to talk about pride, I highly recommend sitting down with some military families. Their stories sank in a bit more on my adult ears, than those of my Poppy, at age eight. It was an honor to meet these folks, and more importantly, provide them with a 45-minute distraction from the weight of their everyday lives. I sure was proud of that job.
But to be honest, I don’t support much of the recent military action the United States’ has stuck its nose into. And living in New York, I was in a blissful, liberal bubble of like-minded people.
When he won, everything changed.
First of all, it fuelled my desire to move abroad. But more importantly it lit a fire under myself, and so many others to find out what was happening outside of our bubble, do our homework, and engage. I showed up for the Women’s March, sign in hand, ready to resist. I’d never been to a protest before. And it’s safe to say those three hours on the streets, were the most inspiring in my life, up to that point.
And what’s most intriguing to me is that everywhere I’ve traveled over the past year, when people ask where I’m from, and I reply, there is always a reaction of “Oh god, well that’s a mess at the moment” or “How did that HAPPEN?” (in reference to Trump). And I always have the same answer. In fact the answer is closer than most people think. In my own immediate family, there are people who support the president, and think I don’t deserve affordable healthcare (they’d phrase it in nicer terms, of course). And minus the healthcare bit, like-minded and fear-driven people are growing their bubbles all over the world. They’ve found a voice in the form of racist, hateful politicians, and their confidence is growing.
But every action has an equal and opposite reaction.
And Trump was the catalyst for the silent moderates, liberals, progressives, gun-haters (and whatever other group you’d like to throw in there), like myself, to find our voices.
I’m not the first and I’m certainly not the most brave. I bow down to all of the activists who have dedicated their lives to fighting for what is right, since before I was born. In my (highly unprofessional) opinion, I think it’s only natural to be motivated, when you feel threatened. As a privileged white girl, I never really felt threatened in my cushy upbringing. I don’t know what it’s like to fear for your life every time you encounter the police. I can’t imagine being told I cannot marry whomever I choose. And I certainly have never experienced the raw fear of being denied entry into a country, without having a safe place to return to. I’ve never been in these situations, but my friends and co-workers and have. Human beings, now at risk of being treated as “less than.” In the United States of America in 2018. And that is unacceptable.
So it took me awhile. And I apologize for being late to the party. I’m still not threatened, but I’m suddenly very motivated. Motivated to drown out the fear mongering, with knowledge and compassion. Motivated to start calling out casual racism anywhere (what a concept), because I guarantee you, it exists everywhere. And motivated to be a force for good, and an ambassador for a country that’s internationally referred to as a bomb, when it should be recognized for the sparks of change popping up all over the nation.
In a world where first impressions mean everything, I think we’re often scared of being too aggressive, or harsh, especially as women. But after the mid-term elections, I’ve seen how white women can make or break what is right. So I’m here! I’m engaging with the close-minded people around me. I’m inspired by the drive and passion of so many change-makers, filling all of my social media channels. And I’m striving to be one of them.
And now, at the age of 26, I have an inkling of what this word “pride” means. It’s at the heart of every Women’s March, peaceful sit-in, and student walk-out, just as much as it’s in the hearts of every family on the military bases I visited with the USO. Pride, in my opinion, exists when you have something worth fighting for.
I may be late for the party, but I’m here, and most of all, I’m incredibly proud.
Proud to come from a nation of aforementioned change-makers. Proud to have been raised in a land of freedoms (and field imagery) protected by the brave men and women like my Poppy. And proud to use my voice, not only for patriotic gigs with the USO Show Troupe, but to talk, type, and text for what I believe is right.
If my Poppy were alive today, I’m quite certain he wouldn’t agree with my political views, but I think there is one greater trait that we share. It’s a word called pride. And I wish I would’ve discovered it a bit sooner.