I am an expatriate living in El Salvador for nearly seven years. For the most part I feel an emotional as well as geographical distance from my mother country. But I do follow news and opinions as much to see how the changes are affecting family, friends and the world at large as to not forget my first language.
There’s been a lot of controversy on the news recently regarding President Obama’s love for America. It awakened some thoughts about love for one’s country over the nearly 80 years of my life. One particular blog on Huffington Post prompted me to write this personal essay.
I grew up during WWII. The word “patriotism” was thrust at us via the radio and movies. We lived next to the army camp from which soldiers were shipped to Europe to fight to keep America free. Kate Smith sang “God Bless America”. Frank Sinatra sang “That’s America to Me”. Elton Britt sang about a blind man who was unable to join the military in “I’d Like to Give My Dog to Uncle Sam”. Loving America was never questioned–unless you were of Japanese, German or Italian descent. All 135 million of us united in a common cause, to defeat the Axis powers and keep America free. We were still Democrats and Republicans but somehow our President and the Congress were able to work together to get the job done. We saved paper, scrap metal, grease to donate for the war effort. We survived with ration stamps for food and gasoline. We developed substitutes for goods we couldn’t import. We loved that America! We believed in the “land of the free and the home of the brave”. We paid little heed to the issues of segregation, discrimination, and many other negatives that needed correcting to make the words of our Great State Papers become a reality for all who lived here.
Mr. Blow (in his Huff Post blog) rightly comments that we haven’t gotten there yet. The 21st century has carried us by our own volition even farther from the ideals we took for granted during the 40s and 50s with the inception of the Cold War, democracy vs. communism.
America has strayed from the concept of E Pluribus Unum, out of many, one. The “one” has been rent into “many”. There is no common goal. Even the artificially created wars beginning with Viet Nam have not brought us together. We are not of one mind in domestic or foreign policies. The progressives continue to be assailed by the backward thinking conservatives who are trying to recreate a fanciful past that never really existed and was before their time, their memory.
Who loves America? There are too many “Americas” in America today. I lived through the McCarthy era, the America for Americans era (that didn’t mean Native Americans), the America, love it or leave it era, so many eras that further divided America into opposing camps. In 2015 I don’t even trust my own memory to recall the America I used to be able to say I loved.
Now I live in El Salvador. As different from the U.S. I lived in for 70 years as day is from night. Do I love El Salvador? No. It’s another piece of real estate on Planet Earth. Much smaller than the U.S. Fewer inhabitants than New York City. But it does have one language. It does use the U.S. dollar so I don’t have to do any calculations when I shop. It has its own tropical beauty and a lot of people who will never have what you have. Is a country like a sports team to root for as the best in the league? A genre of music? A particular poet’s or writer’s work? I don’t think so. The world has gotten much smaller since the 1940s. We are almost all connected and close in one way or another.
I’ve learned it’s not about countries and trying to be the biggest, baddest, most generous, or most controlling. It’s about people. All people from all parts of the planet. Ask me if I love the Earth. I’ll tell you, yes. It’s got lots of problems. Mostly of our own causation. I’d like to resolve or see resolved as many of them as possible through the efforts of all people of good will. If the U.S. can be a leader in resolving problems rather than causing them in its efforts to be number one, I just might be able to say, yes, I love America.