What Independence Day Means An International Student

What Independence Day Means An International Student

Independence Day has as much impact on me as it does on all Americans
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Not long ago, I celebrated the 241st birthday of America. I dressed in tri color, held the Stars Spangled Banner, went to parades, and saw fireworks. I seemed as patriotic as everyone else, except that I felt a little guilty for my patriotism.

I am not American. I use different slangs, speak with a different accent, and hold a different color passport. I am a foreigner and should not be mingling with the natives. However, Independence Day has as much impact on me as it does on all Americans

It is a celebration of unity.

Independence Day not only celebrates America's independence from Great Britain but also marks the beginning of the development of American values: democracy, freedom, equality, acceptance, respect, and the list goes on.

I have talked to strangers on every Independence Day since the year I arrived in America, and every year after hearing my story, they would look into my eyes and smile, "Welcome to America." To me, that means a lot more than just being polite. For centuries, this land has had her arms open to everyone, men and women, white and black, Christian and Muslim, liberal and conservative. Years ago, she welcomed me. In America, I harvested friendship, knowledge, skills, and mindset. On Independence Day, I express my gratitude with pride. On Independence Day, I am just as American as the others.

It is an opportunity to learn the history of the country I live in.

The US is not the only country I have lived in besides my home country. My family moved around the world and settled in various countries to ensure that I would have the richest cultural experience possible. Wherever I go, I hold the belief that it would be pointless to live somewhere if I didn't know its history. Independence Day provides me the opportunity to listen to the stories of those came before me. My heart sinks with those who sacrificed for this land, twisted with those who labeled one people superior than the other, and leaped with those who fought and won the battle for freedom and equality. Independence Day made me experience America deeper.

It is recognizing the differences between my home country and the States and reflecting on what America means to me.

I did not arrive in this country on a steamboat. Nor did I go through a series of Elis Island checkups under Lady Liberty's gaze. However, just like generations ago when the ancestors of today's Americans stepped on this land, my family and I came here with dreams and hopes for the future.

A lot of people have told me that no matter how many American pop songs I listen to or how minimal my accent is, I am and will always be a foreigner in the country. The first fourteen years of my life was spent elsewhere, and this gap, they say, would never be filled with any effort to fit in. I dare say there is no American culture – American culture itself is a mixture of various traditions. To me, it is about respecting, accepting, and understanding other cultures. I am honored to be part of it while holding the values that run in my family.

While I paraded down the streets with the Star-Spangled Banner over my shoulder, I felt out of place. That feeling was soon dissolved into the realization that everyone in this immigrant country has once been in my shoe as a foreigner. Independence Day reminds me my role in this country – I may hold a different passport, but I can do as well, dream as high, and love the land as much – as the others around me.

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I'll Take My Patriotism Without Your Nationalism

Because every Fourth of July a hefty dose of nationalism gets served next to the potato salad.
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It's reached that point in summer when flags are flying everywhere, fireworks go off every night, BBQs are a daily occurrence, parades going on all in celebration 'Merica. But a far darker idea perpetrates this celebration, one that has always existed and has been lurking. It is a force that has come out in full force within the past year. That is the idea of nationalism. An idea which has been allowed to fester for too long.

Let's first define both patriotism and nationalism, figuring out what they would look like in practice. For this we are getting some help from out good old friends at Oxford. Patriotism is "The quality of being patriotic; love or devotion to one's country". Nationalism is defined as "Advocacy or support for the national interest of other nations. Also; advocacy of or support for national independence or self determination". They both sound pretty harmless and they both sound pretty similar. In fact they use to be used interchangeably. It's only by looking at historical use of the word and how the developed in the modern world that there is a difference.

First patriotism is a general feeling, nationalism is an ideology. Overtime patriotism has mostly been used to mean love. It has boarded on some questionable uses but has always come back to a general idea of love for one's country. Nationalism took a darker turn when it started to be used for as another word for egotism. Soon it also entwined religion into the mix as people started feeling this deep seated pride for both their country and their religion. During the Indian Independence movement race was brought into the definition. Later class was also added into the definition. I don't think many would that nationalism is a good thing.

But that still does not really give a feel for what the two manifest as. Patriotism would be love so taking up a life in public service to better the community, voting, taking time on days such as the Fourth to celebrate the freedoms we have, endorsing ideas which will move the country forward in a better direction. Nationalism on the other hand would be taking up a life in public service because you want to make America American again. Enjoying your freedoms but then thinking that allows you to impose your ideas on other (ie trying to not have evolution or sex education in class rooms because Jesus). Criticizing those who practice there rights to dissent with the phrase "if you don't like it just leave". Trying to undermine someone else's displeasure with the country because your eyes the country is perfect is not love.

There are so many other small ideas which exist in our daily conversations. This concept of a "real America", if it's in the borders of the country it is all real America. A sort of obsession with the armed forces and military power. The citizens who volunteer to do that job are amazing people. But idealizing our military might and war machine is just another form of nationalism. Any variation of the phrase about how the United States is the best country or was the best country or could be again. Nationalism is already connected with egotism, I feel like the connection is clear.

If it was just the crazy white supremacist groups espousing this everyday it would not be as much of an issue. But ideas of nationalism have worked there way into our ideas of patriotism. Patriotic songs focus solely around the armed forces and military power. Putting flags everywhere, which is also kind of weird. At the same time we also idolize our flag a lot. Talking about an idealized America or trying to get back to one. Of course any phrase which talks about how the United States is the best.

But why does this actually matter? These small, harmless showing of nationalism is hardly the same branch that causes the hate and xenophobia which nationalism is linked with. But these small, harmless showings of nationalism is what breeds the rot. Most people understand this countries faults. Most people understand the military is not what defines who we are. That you cannot trample someone else's life because you believe in a certain ideal. But the more we intertwine nationalism and patriotism the more we believe these small nationalist ideas. The more people who think it's okay to bomb a Jewish community center or a Mosque in the name of America. The more people who yell "Go back to your own country" to minorities. The more people try linking outdated ideas of race, gender, and religion into politics because to them that is "real" America. The more we allow nationalism into our conversations the more hateful and afraid this country gets.

So how do we stop it? First, we need to start thinking long and hard about our relationship to the country. Is it a healthy one where we understand it's strengths and weaknesses, see how we can make it better, can work to make it better? Or is it an unhealthy one where we see it as amazing? Or worse, an idea that it use to be great and now it is broken, that the people who broke it (being government, atheist, women, gays, non Americans etc) must be taken down? Patriotism and a healthy relationship is good, it is what moves the country forward as we work to make it a better place. Nationalism, even in small doses is bad. So go have a hot dog at the pool on the Fourth, just don't eat the nationalist rhetoric as a side.

Cover Image Credit: https://www.nostalgiadecals.com/product/american-eagle-american-flag-pair-decal/

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Proud to be American, Even in Spain

Independence is our proudest asset
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For Americans, the 4th of July is a big holiday to celebrate the pride and accomplishments of our great nation. There's often many barbecues, parties, and firework shows to go to, and even more family to see. (This could be because Americans look for any opportunity to celebrate, but that's besides the point). However, spending the 4th out of the country is a weird experience. I'm spending the holiday in Spain with a group of other American students, but it still feels weird to not be sharing it with my family and friends. While it is weird and I'm missing the opportunity to see friends and family, I don't feel like I'm being un-American by not having plans for the 4th. I don't feel like I'm losing my sense of patriotism just because I'm not celebrating. I actually feel like it expands my love for the country, and my appreciation for all I'm given in the life I live in the United States.

Spain is absolutely beautiful, and this is not about comparing Spain to America, but there are things I didn't even know I've taken for granted that I have in the US. Our country may not be perfect, and things may not always go the way we want them to, but that doesn’t make America bad. It makes me proud to know that we have the right to fight and speak out for what we need, want, and believe in so that we can improve the status and goals of our country as a whole. I feel proud to know that we can explore in areas near us, and go places far away to bring a mix of different influences, cultures, and experiences to combine into one great combination. I’m thankful for the people who fight, or have fought for our country to keep us safe, and find ways to keep us as safe as possible. Of course the world is scary, and we never know what can happen, but our America is a world that I try to look at with the mindset of progression and positivity. It can get pretty tough to live in an oppressive or derogatory country, but we are lucky to have the rights to make the changes we need in our country.

America has so many opportunities to offer, and so much to see. It’s a place where more people have the chance to make a life for themselves, and do what they want to do with their vision of the world. Being American is something that people joke about, but at the end of the day it really is something to be proud of. Our country has come a long way, and still has a long way to go, but we are making changes everyday to provide safety, opportunity, and pride to all of the people in the United States. Independence is our proudest asset, because we as individuals take pride in our individuality and ability to be different and still exist together. This is the thing I’m proudest of too, because we find pieces of ourselves in all the people we surround ourselves with, and allow them to influence us with their individuality too. Freedom isn’t always free, and for us it came at the cost of a lot of lives lost over the last 200+ years, but this is even more of a reason to understand that we are given something precious in this country, and we shouldn’t waste our opportunity for greatness. I’m proud to be an American, and I’m even more proud to represent the country as a student studying in Spain.

Cover Image Credit: Dave Navarro Jr

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