My Immigrant Parents Taught Me What It Means To Be A Patriot

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My Immigrant Parents Taught Me What It Means To Be A Patriot

I still remember the first time I met a citizen of this fine country who claimed to not be a patriot. It was September 11th, 2010, and I had just signed the lease on my first off-campus house. I knew I was getting myself into trouble signing a lease with a bunch of hipsters, but I had yet to pledge a fraternity and my connections were limited. I had been close with four of my housemates throughout my freshman year and hesitantly allowed one of their cousins to sign the lease with us to lower rent costs. Had I known anything about this guy, I would have paid the extra money to have him live as far away from me as possible, but that’s a story for another day.

I woke up on the morning of September 11th and was pleased to see that my American flag had been shipped in time for the somber occasion. I immediately got to work setting it up on the outside of our house, and then lowering it to half-mast to commemorate the terrible loss that had occurred nine years prior. As I walked back inside, I saw my roommate looking at me with a strange expression on his face.

“So…are you putting up the flag just for today or is that going to be a permanent fixture?” he asked. I was rightfully confused. Every house I had ever lived in or visited has had an American flag flying on it, and to me, it was as much a part of a home as the lawn or white picket fence. “I was going to leave it up, is that a problem?” I asked, indicating that problem or not, the flag wasn’t coming down until I moved out. “No, I mean I guess it’s fine, I just think it’s funny since I would never consider myself, like, proud to be an American,” he said, giving me the expression of someone just dying to unload a bunch of hipster opinions on me.

I was floored.

I had never in my 19 years of life heard someone say that. Of course, I’ve talked politics and complained about issues our country faces and shared opinions on solutions, but I had never heard anyone express they weren’t a patriot.

Over the course of the next twenty minutes of aggressive conversation I had with my roommate, and similar arguments with other proud non-patriots over the course of my life, I’ve learned that these people all have no knowledge of how good we have it. Their complaints range from “I’m embarrassed because Europeans think we’re stupid” and “We’re all fat” to “the government is corrupt.” I’ve also realized their opinions are based on a segmented worldview of people who have only lived in the U.S., or maybe studied abroad for three months and think they now have an accurate knowledge of foreign culture.

They’ve lived nothing but pampered lives and have grown to detest the greatest country in the world because it isn’t the perfect utopia they believe other countries to be. I’ve never been allowed to have that view. My parents both immigrated here in their teens and have brought me up an adamant patriot, secure with the first-hand knowledge that this truly is the land of opportunity.

When my parents first moved here from Israel and Italy respectively, they were astounded by the amount of diversity, cultural freedom, and lack of corruption in this country. My dad tells stories about how, when he was growing up, the government broke up rallies by firing shots into the crowd, and policemen beat people down in the street for expressing views against the government. In this country, you could hold a public rally to impeach Obama, and no one would stop you. Hell, you can even burn an American flag as protest and the government has no legal authority to stop you (although I wouldn’t recommend it, the government wouldn’t hurt you, but I sure as hell might).

I know that racial and religious diversity has always been an issue we as a country have struggled with, but to hear people talk about how well Europe handles it is insane. No other country has anywhere near the amount of diversity we have. Sweden, a country whose government many of these non-patriots people praise, has ten million citizens, a majority of which are white Christians. It’s a lot easier to make everyone happy when everyone is the same. America is called the “melting pot” for a reason, and that is a great thing. When people from all different races, religions, and viewpoints can come together and express themselves freely, that’s where new ideas and innovations are born.

The greatest thing my parents speak of when describing their love of this country is the persistence of the American dream. Growing up in Italy, my dad’s life goals were limited to working in the factory like his father, or working in the family grocery store. When he moved to America, he put himself through college, decided he wanted to work in the tech industry and busted his ass until he got what he wanted (a beach house in Mexico that I have yet to be invited to — thanks, dad). He never settled and never thought he wasn’t good enough to do it, and that is because of the American dream. No, it doesn’t come true for anyone, and yes, privilege and opportunity play a huge part in success, but attaining the dream isn’t the important part. It’s having the dream at all.

The fact that a janitor’s child growing up in this country can truly believe that he or she will be president one day, and not having that idea shut down by parents, teachers, and society is an amazing thing. Praising those who go out on their own path and try to create something that hasn’t been seen before, instead of labeling trailblazers losers, is fucking awesome. That is the kind of pervasive, cultural freedom that a lot of other countries don’t have, and I believe it is America’s greatest trait.

I know the United States isn’t perfect. I know that we face a whole lot of problems that can seem overwhelming and cause people to lose faith in their country. But through my parent’s eyes, I can’t do so. I will question our laws, our government, our culture, and fight for change I believe in, but I will never question that this is the greatest country on Earth. And I will always thank my parents for being bold enough to see that, and to make the decision to raise me here.

Image via Shutterstock

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