American- Old and New

One of the things I’m most proud of is my family heritage. Mom is caucasian. Blonde haired and blue eyed, her family has been in America since the 1700s and originated from England (I think there may be a bit of Irish in the mix, as well.) The Hodges lineage may be considered one of the oldest families in America and has so many branches it’s nearly impossible to keep track of them all. In fact, there’s a website to help identify all the different Hodges. I didn’t realize it until I started writing this post, but it’s pretty cool what they’ve done so far!

In contrast, Dad is full blooded Thai and first generation American. It was my grandparents who immigrated back in the 1940s in order to attend university and eventually make lives for themselves. I love the fact that I am a combination of some of the oldest Americans and newest Americans. I feel I embody the concept of what it means to be American because of these two aspects. It has helped me have a greater appreciation for our immigrant nature and realize that everybody who comes to this country has had a hand in shaping it’s heritage AND it’s future.

Our country has benefited by our geography, however, it has also made it so that there are a lot of Americans who have never stepped foot outside their own country. This is not a healthy situation because it causes them to take an egocentric worldview. I think our entire population should make a point of traveling abroad and learning about other perspectives.

That being said, there have been so many times I’ve spoken to friends or fellow travelers and they tell me they put a Canadian flag on their backpacks or don’t claim to be American when they’re out traveling. It’s frustrating! They should be proud of where they come from and take the opportunity to represent our country well. The irony is that they are probably in the best position to actually make a good impression, because they’re the ones out exploring the world and already attuned to the fact that we may not be well regarded.

I consider myself to be patriotic. I still get a lump in my throat when I hear the national anthem hit that high note of hope and aspiration. I still marvel at the brilliance of the fireworks on the Fourth of July. And I insist on representing my country as best as I can when I go traveling abroad; choosing not to hide behind another flag simply because I’m afraid people will think less of me due to my country’s reputation and propensity for war.

However, that’s not to say that I haven’t been critical of our government and foreign policies. That doesn’t mean that I haven’t marched and protested and written multiple letters to Congress. It’s important, as citizens, that we take an active role in our government and monitor those in power. This country was meant to be for the people, by the people…and if we don’t keep ourselves informed and engaged, then we are reneging on our legacy. It really bothers me when I hear people say, “Don’t like it, then get out.” Patriotism isn’t about getting out. It’s about staying and caring enough to stand for what you believe in and keep working towards a system that works for everybody.

A major part of the American identity is the fact that we have a tendency towards self-reflection; of constantly looking in the mirror and asking, “Who are we?” It’s a tough concept to grasp because it’s constantly in flux. We can’t just point to one aspect of our identity and say, “There! That’s who we are!” There are so many backgrounds and places of origin, so many different languages and religions, so many types of cuisine and music. And, that’s the beauty of it! The fact that we can take all these seemingly disparate parts and somehow make it work.

I’m not saying it always works. Obviously, it doesn’t, or we wouldn’t have poverty and deficits and everything else. But, we say it CAN work. We have the audacity and will to try. I think our strength is in that “can do” spirit. Our strength is that we believe in the opportunity to improve and reform. We believe that we can work hard enough to make a difference. What’s more, we believe EVERYBODY should have that opportunity to improve. Not just a certain caste or creed.

It isn’t all just one big rat race, though. I think most Americans believe in fair game, good sportsmanship and equal opportunity. The America I know is a combination of competition and compassion. If it were all competitive, we wouldn’t have any compunction of stepping over others on the way to the top. (Which, does happen, but it’s not lauded.) What I’m saying is, we also believe in helping our neighbors, looking out for others, charity and empathy, as well as achievement and success. Unfortunately, I think the nuance gets lost in this point fairly often.

There have been a lot of debates recently between capitalism and social programs in regards to healthcare, social security and banking regulations. A lot of people have said we are not a “socialist” society and shouldn’t be concerned about government programs. They call them “entitlement” programs and claim that people are trying to get something they don’t deserve. I believe in working hard and earning what you get. I believe in the power of capitalism. However, I also think that we should all be playing the same game with the same set of rules. We need to ensure a fair system where everybody can succeed.

It’s important to remember, none of us in the country grew up in a vacuum. I grew up in a country that provided public schools, roads to get me there, police to patrol them, firefighters in case my house burned down, clean drinking water, safe food regulations and any number of other services that are provided for by living in a SOCIETY. Afterall, that is the purpose of society; to band together and get further than the generation before us. To improve ourselves collectively.

That’s what taxes are for. That’s why we don’t all live out in the boondocks and have to provide all methods of survival for ourselves. That’s why we don’t let someone who is fatally sick and dying suffer out on the street and step over them. (Oh wait, I guess we do that last one to some degree.) All of those people who scoff at paying taxes, who like to tout their success and prowess at capitalism or power have the SOCIETY they were born into to thank for the position they’re in now.

So, happy 236th birthday, America! May we keep working towards a better society and trying to remember what makes us great, while still working on the areas that need improving!

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