Just because someone waves an American flag or wears a flag pin doesn’t mean they understand how lucky they are to live in the United States. Most of us rarely think about how it compares to other countries and how it became one of the most envied in the world.
It’s our differences and varied family histories that make this country unique. It grew from a settlement of a few European immigrants to one that opened its arms to the rest of the world. Our country’s first motto, “E Pluribus Unum,” Latin for “out of many: one,” first was expressed on the Great Seal of the United States in 1782.
Unless we’re 100 percent Native American, we are here because of immigrants. Yet those who came later often were greeted with fear, hatred and sometimes violence. Thankfully, most people today appreciate the contributions patriotic immigrants made and continue to make to this country.
Referring to an August survey, the Pew Research Center reported: “For a large majority of Americans, the country’s openness to people from around the world is essential to who we are as a nation.” It found that 68 percent of those surveyed believe America’s openness to foreigners is a defining characteristic of our country. That’s what the Statue of Liberty represents: a welcome to those who are searching for a better life.
We’re not as divided as some want us to believe. Americans are mostly good people who come together when it counts. We unite to send aid to fellow Americans after hurricanes and other natural disasters. Fire departments and electric companies send their people to help with wild fires and major power outages. When farmers in one area suffer from drought, farmers from other areas pitch in and share what they have. Individuals of all races and religions, nonprofit organizations, church groups and many others consistently unite to help fellow Americans.
Everyone came together as patriots when Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941 and when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. One of the times most noted for American patriotism and unity was after 9/11, when the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were attacked by terrorists. The events of that day shook the nation and brought us all together.
When I asked friends about the times they’ve felt the most patriotic, they responded: When I vote; when I saw the Statue of Liberty; visiting Arlington National Cemetery and seeing how many sacrificed their lives for our country; at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier; registering new voters; hearing my mother talk about her journey to this country in steerage; returning from a trip to the Soviet Union; Barack Obama’s election; during patriotic celebrations; while working on a campaign; marching with others to advocate for democracy; helping immigrants fill out citizenship applications; seeing the Vietnam Wall; marching in the Memorial Day parade behind the color guard; seeing, for the first time, the flag backlit and moving in a gentle breeze; visiting the Capitol building in Washington, D.C.
I felt enormous patriotism in 1966, as I arrived in New York City after living in Germany for two years. I immediately noticed the wide diversity of races, hair styles and clothing. In Germany back then, everyone looked and dressed almost the same. Here, differences were commonplace and accepted.
But the most fiercely patriotic I’ve felt was when I lived in Canada and heard TV commentators consistently belittle American policies. At a college graduation ceremony I attended, one of the speakers was a star of a Canadian comedy show. Unbelievably and inappropriately, she spent almost her entire speech tearing down the U.S. As I listened, I became furious.
When I saw her at the graduates’ reception, I went up to her and said, “I lived in the United States longer than you’ve been alive, and I never once heard anyone attack Canada or Canadians. I’ve been here only a month and I’ve heard Canadians attack my country almost every day.” She walked away.
Three years later, I came home. As my plane was circling Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, I cried in happiness when I saw a line of American flags lining the road to the terminals. That’s when I realized how much I loved this country.
In fact, most of us love it more than we know. Some love it enough to risk their lives for the freedom it represents. Many show their appreciation for it by informing themselves and voting. Some fight for our rights on the floors of state and federal legislatures. And some show their love for this country by standing, or kneeling, to pledge, uphold and guarantee “liberty and justice for all.”
Aren’t we lucky we live here?