It’s the 4th of July here in the USA – a long weekend of family barbeques, parades and fireworks. Americans are always happy to fly a flag, sometimes one just stating their child is a member of the debating team or the cheerleading squad, or professing allegiance to a certain university; so when a true flag-flying occasion like Memorial Day or July 4th presents itself, boy do they fly em!
I am in Galveston for the weekend staying with people like me – new Americans. The Stars and Stripes fly next to the Lone Star flag – the only state allowed to fly their flag on the same level as Old Glory. Texas has after all been a republic as well as flying under the Spanish, French, Mexican and Confederate flags, and is the only state to retain the right to secede from the Union. Below the Lone Star is the flag of Texas A&M University, the college where their son is finishing off his academic education.
Jammed into the rain-desperate ground at regular intervals along the byways and driveways are miniature flags proclaiming the importance of the day. It is all a bit OTT for the average British-born American but there is an element of me that rather likes all this patriotism, this unshakeable belief that this is the best country in the world. But what is more incredible to me is that the average American feels this all year around and not just on Independence Day or when their guy or gal is on centre court, though of course that didn’t happen at Wimbledon this year.
Most of the rest of the world become ardently patriotic if their team is playing in some world cup or other, or marching into the Olympic arena full of hope – the gold, silver and bronze glistening just out of reach, but here it’s year round enthusiasm.
As we had dinner last night, sitting on the boat dock watching the canal lights attract flitting fish and as the Grenache soothed our throats, a debate arose as to whether we should also be flying the Union Flag (Union Jack) at half mast in protest. Discretion fortunately prevailed and it was unanimously agreed it would be rude to unsettle the natives – particularly as most around us appear to be of the Republican ilk and therefore possibly gun toting.
But it’s got me thinking. All this patriotism.
I am delighted to be a card carrying American – it took twelve years to reach that particular milestone, a large number of greenbacks, endless fingerprinting, questions and of course the citizenship and English language test, not to mention infinite patience. It was though a relatively easy process.
The swearing in was humbling. I looked around the huge auditorium turned courtroom-for-the-morning and, as we were told, saw nationals from 137 countries finally achieving their goal – US citizenship. Some had literally sweated blood and there was no place they would be rather be – as I said humbling.
We had made the decision to apply, and whilst the path had been frustrating at times it was not difficult or danger filled. Our world would not have imploded if we had not been granted that slip of paper. Many however in that gymnasium, primped and primed, would have lost their one string of hope, their one ounce of good fortune, if the chop had come down and said ‘not eligible for citizenship’.
For those who had been brought into the country illegally as children, unaware of the dangers of both the journey and the life they were preparing to lead, one of constant vigilance and carefulness, of not saying a wrong word as they navigated the American way of life – their day in court, being sworn in, must have indeed been sweet. The dream come true.
So yes, I do understand the sometimes extreme patriotism felt in this country built on the back of immigrants but I can’t quite build up to the same level of flag flying fervour – I suppose I’m more British than I think.