In Her Words
The Birth of a Patriot
Why this year, the 4th of July has new meaning
-April Daniels Hussar
Last week, in honor of the 4th of July, we decided to put together an article listing what all the Bettys love about America. Well, here’s the thing. I’ve never really been what most people think of as patriotic. Yes, I’ve always pretty much been grateful to live here in the good old US of A, but for most of my life I kind of felt weird about the whole concept of patriotism. After all, isn’t it just a random stroke of fate that I was born in the middle of a snowstorm in Denver, Colorado, rather than in a Shantytown hospital in South Africa, or a royal estate in the Middle East? Does that make me any better than any baby in another country? I guess I always preferred to think of myself as a citizen of the world, appreciating all cultures and lands as different but equal.
Plus, being raised as I was in a rather liberal northern California community, I had my eyes opened pretty early to a lot of what I considered to be problems with America. My mom and I boycotted non-organic grapes in solidarity with the migrant farm workers. I graduated quickly from making Popsicle stick pilgrim settlements to decrying the murdering and exploitation of the Indians. I marched with my fellow 9th graders against the first Iraq war and was sickened when the second started the very day my own daughter was born. The list goes on and on.
But these last few years have really opened my eyes to what it means to be an American. I have a whole new appreciation for my country, and my good fortune in being her citizen. I’m not just talking about the election of Barack Obama (though that’s a source of real pride, I’ll tell you right now). But what I’m really talking about is a true respect for the whole crazy melting pot that we live in – a melting pot full of imperfections and problems, sure – but a darn incredible, truly beautiful melting pot nonetheless, where we are all free to have our own opinions, to draw our own conclusions, and to voice those beliefs without fear.
Moving to a new coast, joining the grownup work force and the world of parenthood, and even since working right here at this website, I’ve come in contact with a lot of people who don’t come from my same liberal background. And all the debating and excitement leading up to our last election was truly an eye-opening experience. Democrat or Republican, liberal or Libertarian … the root of it all is, for most people, a desire for the best life for all people. We just disagree about what exactly that means, and how to get there. My co-Kindergarten class mom with the John McCain bumper sticker – not just a mindless conservative as I once would have assumed, but a smart, devoted mother who believed he was the best leader for a country where she works hard to raise her two kids. My fellow Betty with a passion for Sarah Palin – not a brainwashed Republican, but a brilliant, educated woman who opened my eyes to Palin’s strength and guts. Yeah, so we don’t all agree. About some things, we disagree vehemently. You say civil union; I say gay marriage.
But honestly, isn’t that the beauty of it? Isn’t that the whole point? Isn’t it pretty great that I can subscribe to MoveOn.org emails, you can crush on Glen Beck, and we can both agree Meghan McCain has some serious moxie? That we can disagree about abortion rights, but find common ground when it comes to educating our children and supporting our troops (no matter what we think about the war)? And most of all that we can talk about, and write about, and demonstrate our beliefs and arguments – and even (gasp!) change our minds – without fear?
And recent world events have only served to reinforce my newfound pride. Researching an article about Lisa Ling and Euna Lee, I’m reminded that much of the world does not enjoy our same freedom to disagree, our same liberties. Women are stoned and shot in Iran for protesting an unfair “election;” I can take my daughter with me to the voting booth and believe I teach her the truth that my vote is counted, that my voice is heard
So … the Bettys wanted to know … what do I love about America? There are a lot of things … but the biggest, the most important?
This little girl, who, yes, was born the very day the current Iraq war started (March 19th, 2003), this little person, light of my life … she is what I love most about America. Because I know, I believe with my whole heart, that if my husband and I don’t mess up too badly as parents, she can do anything. She can grow up to be the president of our country if she wants. Of her four grandparents, only one went to college. Her ancestors come from England, Italy, Hungary, Germany, Ireland, France, Czechoslovakia … she’s a true All-American mutt, and, thanks to the stroke of fate that brought her into the world, and into my blessed life, in a New York City hospital, she has all the opportunities and freedoms of every American kid. Yep, I know she has it easier than someone born down the way in Newark, New Jersey. I know every American child doesn’t start off on that that fantasy level playing field. But she wasn’t born with a silver spoon in her mouth. In fact, she was born with something better – freedom, and choice, and possibility.
No matter what happens in 2012, or 2016 – no matter which way that political pendulum swings (and I’m sure it will swing again, and I’m glad it will, because that means the system is working), I’m a true convert. I finally get it – that being patriotic doesn’t have to equate to driving around in a pickup truck with an American Flag bumper sticker (yeehaw! These colors don’t run baby!). It doesn’t mean I think I’m better than a Canadian, or a French woman, or any citizen of the world. And it really doesn’t just mean being happy with a current administration. It means understanding that what makes our country great, and what makes me grateful to live here, is that the process, it works. And our people, for the most part, they are good. And my daughter … the world is her oyster. We are free. We have opportunity. We are Americans.
This 4th of July, I’m going to watch the fireworks with my little girl, and know, in my heart, that they stand for something. Yes, it’s an imperfect something. But my god, isn’t it something?