Thursday, July 4, 2013

Is It Okay to Celebrate?

I feel a little torn sometimes about patriotism. Sometimes from pressure I put on myself, sometimes from the culture I currently live in, sometimes from my home culture.  And it all leaves me a little confused about how I should feel, how I should teach my children.

It seems it's become politically incorrect to be patriotic in the U.S. except on national holidays.  Even then, there are subtle warnings and hidden messages to keep that in check and remember that we're part of a global society.  At the risk of hurting other people's feelings, we squelch the pride we feel in our home country.

This past week, I sat in on a workshop presented to Paraguayan high school students learning English language and culture.  The American woman giving the presentation was teaching about Flag Day and shared a brief history of our flag, the meaning of the stars and stripes and various designs as states were added to our number.  She then showed a few other flags from other countries and asked if the students could identify them.  The last flag was a banner with a dark background and a photo of Earth.  She ended her presentation by saying, "And this is my favorite flag of all, the world flag."  And a little red flag of my own went up inside me, causing a few days of reflection on why.

The American flag at a ceremony we attended
at the US Embassy in 2011
When we first moved to Paraguay, I almost felt embarrassed to be an American.  I quickly learned that here, the reputation of a typical American was either a young hippie into loose sexual relations and heavy drinking or a tourist/business person a few years older who threw around his dollars and his supremacy, looking down on the poor Paraguayans and talking down to those he took the time to speak with or do business with.  The local people's impression of missionaries was only slightly different--spoiled folks coming in to say how things were different (better) in "my country" and to set the poor natives straight on how they're not living the Christian life right, according to the missionary's version of American Jesus.

We worked hard to shatter those stereotypes and take the focus off where we'd come from.  When kids asked us about the lifestyles they'd seen in the movies and assumed all of America lived in mansions on cul-de-sacs with butlers, we explained carefully about Hollywood vs. real life.  When adults asked us how we could take our girls from the land of plenty, we sang the benefits of living in Paraguay and told all the reasons we were happy our children were being raised in a culture of community.

We neglected to wear those Old Navy flag tee shirts and didn't plaster our motorcycle helmets with the stars and stripes, as we'd seen others do.  We tried to fit in here, choosing a local soccer team to root for, putting out the Paraguayan flag on holidays and draping our car in national colors on the appropriate days.  And I felt a sense of pride rise up in me for this country.  I saw people celebrating their heritage, their spirit of survival, their successes and their failures.  I saw how nice it was to have a sense of belonging and I felt my own sense of pride in my home country climb.

I thought back to my high school and my college.  On game day, you'd better believe I was rooting for MY team.  I had a history there that connected me with what that team represented, and I still deck out in orange when Clemson plays Carolina.  Does that mean I don't appreciate the people of the other schools?  That I devalue the education received there?  That I look down on those who graduated from Carolina or the fans who choose to root for them?  Not at all.  It just means I am proud of my hometown, proud of my college, proud of my state.

Of course, I have to be smart about throwing around that pride, not wanting to seem "better-than" the people I've come to live with who already struggle terribly with an inferiority complex.  But I have learned from the pride I see the Paraguayans (and other Latin Americans) display in their country, that I shouldn't feel ashamed of pride in my own heritage.  I shouldn't feel like I have to include myself in the world community at the expense of denying my roots.  I can be happy about my present, hopeful about my future, and still proud of my past, and I can't imagine why that would offend anyone.

We won't be celebrating with fireworks or a cookout here (it's cold and rainy), but tomorrow when I meet with the teens and tell them about our Independence Day, I may just be wearing that tee shirt with Old Glory on top of my long sleeves.  :)

Happy Independence Day!


  1. Wonderful Post! Thank you for sharing!

    1. Thanks for coming by and leaving a comment, Carole!

  2. Thanks for sharing this Christie! I felt a little awkward celebrating with fireworks yesterday... And celebrating the 4th with a bunch of Brits, Irish, a Brazilian, and oh, a handful of Americans. :) It's easier to get patriotic about your host country isn't it?

    1. That does seem to be the case. Glad you got to celebrate!

  3. I understand you completely! We'll be having our annual barbecue celebration on the 8th! Because a friend was out of town on the 4th, and we'd hate for her to miss it. I don't hang out any flags either, but I've been known to post a Thomas Jefferson quote on facebook.

    1. Ole' Jefferson is so quotable, isn't he? We almost had a late celebration, too, but it didn't work out after all. I am tempted to declare one day per week of our upcoming 2-month stateside trip, to be a different holiday. We'll celebrate with whoever shows up! :)