Alvarado: How an Immigrant Experiences Patriotism

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(Courtesty Flickr)

By Andrea Alvarado

The concept of patriotism has always been foreign to me. My relationship with my country of birth is not based on unconditional love and pride, it is closer to a mutual indifference. I have never been ashamed of where I come from, however, I do not intend to put up a Mexican flag next to my driveway and parade around town claiming that my country is the greatest one. At the same time, I did grow up with people that felt incredibly connected to the territory demarcated as ours. They would cry with every soccer defeat and participate in every Mexican national holiday. They would also label me as unpatriotic for not feeling the same way, or for being critical of our culture and government. It almost seems like patriotism only works on a black and white scale. It is entirely dependent on the group mentality of “you are either with us or against us.”

Perhaps this is the reason why I often pictured myself living in foreign countries. I saw the unabashed demonstration of patriotism while growing up and I felt I did not belong. I developed tight bonds with the culture, the people and the language of but never to the idea of Mexico. I saw too many flaws in the country to be unconditionally devoted to it. I was unable to put aside substantial faults while the rest wore their patriotism as badges of honor, seemingly unaware of the problems. I wondered if my attitude was an act of treason and my refusal to paint my country as perfect was a sort of moral flaw.

I consoled myself with the idea that one day I was going to move to another country. As I traveled and visited the cosmopolitan cities I dreamt of moving to, I kept encountering the same unforgivable faults. I came into the realization there was not a single city or country that I could call perfect. Poverty, corruption, misogyny and bigotry were starting to look like universal issues rather than those indigenous to Mexico. I did not have to force myself into supporting my country regardless of my principles. Instead, I could decide to stay where I was and confront the elements preventing me from embracing my nationality as an effort for improvement and progress. Perhaps this was my own manifestation of love for my country. Nevertheless, unforeseen circumstances forced me and my family to immigrate to the United States. As I said my goodbyes, the understanding that I was leaving my old life behind finally struck me. My patriotism for my country finally blossomed. For the first time, I was truly able to associate the Mexican flag with every joyful experience I’d had rather than seeing it as a symbol of everything wrong with the country. 

However, my first months of living in the U.S. were incredibly tough. My sense of patriotism continued to shift. I wanted to be back in my first culture and my comfort zone, but it was just out of reach. The distance was able to blur those unforgivable flaws of my country of birth. This newfound sense of patriotism was tinted with nostalgia and longing, but without any doubt felt more intense than ever before. Perhaps once you are away from everything you have known, the negative elements of it seem to vanish. Immigrants begin to idealize certain aspects of their countries, momentarily forgetting the reasons why they were forced to leave it behind. It is a different sort of patriotism, the one that can only exist in foreign places to one’s own.

As I attempted to assimilate into this new world, any love I held for my country seemed publicly unacceptable. I witnessed American citizens condemning the usage of Spanish in their presence, claiming to others loud and clear that “We are in America, speak English.” The side eyes and the expressions of brazen disgust I observed from this aggressive brand of patriotism regarding not only my own culture but those of others made me doubt my own character. It felt that I was somehow a reflection of or responsible for the faults of my country. My patriotism became a shameful secret, another element that made me vulnerable to the rage of the perceived superiority that some individuals are fed from birth.

I started to wonder if my new-found Mexican pride was going to hinder me from becoming an American. It felt like my identity as an immigrant was unable to coexist with my desire to be accepted. Moreover, the rhetoric that seems to have had the President of the United States elected reinforces my impression of absolute patriotism. As my nationality and culture have been denigrated by those in power, and our successes have been undermined, I am having difficulties in proclaiming unconditional love for this country and my own as a result. I cannot erase my upbringing and my experience as an immigrant. I cannot embrace a country that seems to feel “infested” with every interaction with refugees and Latin American immigrants. I cannot adhere to the seemingly binary definition of patriotism where I am either with them or against them. And unfortunately, now more than ever, I want to be patriotic.

As an immigrant, I feel incredibly thankful for all the opportunities that this country has provided me. Despite terrible decisions of past and current administrations, I respect U.S. institutions and I believe its policies have the power of reflecting the needs of its populations. I look at the history of this country and I marvel at the outstanding people who gave their lives to ensure my rights and those of the people around me. However, my status as an outsider has never been so evident. Every piece of my identity is perceived as inferior by those who believe that “True Americans” are culturally pure. I am aware those with such a fierce viewpoint are a minority, but I am still terrified of this brand of patriotism, no matter the numbers. Beyond the fireworks and the national pride, lately, there is a very dangerous ideal disguising itself as patriotism. The same ideal that has taken the lives of plenty of people across time and continents under the excuse of making a country great again.

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@TheChrony