My family and America go way back.
The story on my Mom’s side is that our ancestor fought for the British in the Revolutionary War, and then decided that he liked it over here anyway once everything was settled. Fast forward to 1730s*, when Squire Boone and his wife Sarah had eleven children. One of them was named Daniel, and he went on to blaze the Kentucky Way. One of the others, I’m not sure which, was my great-x6-grandfather. I need to check with the cousin who does the genealogy on that one.
On my dad’s side, we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Stratford homesteading in Montana a few years ago. I’m not sure where the family came from before then (long story: England), but for a country that’s 237, we’ve been here a pretty decent amount of time.
I’ve lived on the East Coast and in the Midwest, I’ve visited the South and the West Coast, and I have roots out in what was once the Old West. I’ve never been to Hawaii or Alaska, but I’ve been at least near almost everywhere else in the US. We live in a big, diverse, strange, often wonderful country. It’s a country that needed a war to abolish slavery where the UK voted it away in 1833; it’s a country that granted women the right to vote in 1920, two years after our British counterparts. Many of our proudest legacies we took or adapted from other philosophers, countries, and time periods. That being said, we are a country that, from the beginning of our independence, has codified freedoms into our government, even if we can see hypocrisies within the enforcement today.
I love my country. On past fourths of July, I’ve written about how much I came to appreciate what I can do here when I lived abroad and found myself kept from the degree of personal freedom that I enjoy here. I also think, however, that when you truly love something, you love it for what it is in its entirety, and you do not blind yourself to its faults. I think that it is important to really examine the place you live and the things you believe in, and to be honest about what is problematic at the same time as you celebrate what is great.
This is the country that struck down DOMA and Prop 8 at the same time as it nixed Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, a decision which will allow states to ask for identification from many, including minorities and the homeless, who do not have it, in order to count their vote. This is the country that passed Roe v. Wade in 1973, upholding the right to a legal abortion, and where thousands of people fight to this day to restrict that right. This is the country that has always symbolized a new start for the people of the world, while at the same time restricting American Indians to undesirable lands and often setting quotas on immigrants from countries it didn’t fancy. This is the country that elected its first African-American president in 2008 on a platform of dreams and it is the country that considers all males over the age of 18 as “enemy combatants” in drone strikes in Afghanistan that this same president has sanctioned.
We’re not perfect. It would be whitewashing and sugarcoating to suggest that we are. Other countries have better healthcare systems, better discrimination legislation, more realistic laws about drugs and much more gun control. For all of that, we are allowed to love our country for what it stands for in the minds of its people, and in the work those people are doing to make the country a better and safer place for all of its inhabitants, regardless of sex, race, creed, gender, ability, or health. Even on my most cynical days, I do love this country, and I believe that, with work, it can live up to the hopes that billions of people have pinned upon it through the centuries.
This Independence Day, let’s have a beer, eat something grilled, watch the fireworks, quote Bill Paxton in some silly movie, and then think for a minute or two about what we can be doing better. Then let’s figure out the next step in getting the country there.
Happy Fourth of July, everybody.
*I would like to point out that no one called me out on the fact that the 1730s happened before the 1770s, and that three hours after writing this post, having written the sentence in the order in which I heard the stories and not thinking too much since it was a holiday, I perked up and thought, “Ohhhh….nooooo.” Thanks for nothing, Independence Slackers.