Yesterday I celebrated America’s 240th birthday in the most patriotic place I can think of: Canada. As any patriot would, I celebrated America’s independence by going to Tim Hortons. Twice.
Though it was not the primary reason for my visit, I got the chance to celebrate Canada Day for the second time in four years, which probably makes me a Canadian citizen under their law. I hear if you come for a third time, you’ll be forced to marry a Canadian in a wedding ordained by Carly Rae Jepson. My first time celebrating the Canadian equivalent of Independence Day was in 2013, during my trip to Ottawa (shown below), where I saw my future ordainer perform live. She has yet to call me.
In my last post, I wrote about my story as an immigrant and my trek to the land of opportunities. In this post, I want to share what I believe it means to be an American. Given the political landscape in the face of Brexit, undocumented immigration, refugees, and orange-tinted politicians, the concept of patriotism will be the focal point of many debates this year.
Before anything, I want to share what I sincerely believe: America is the greatest country on Earth.
This belief is not without its fair share of controversy. After all, American exceptionalism has led the country into its darkest corners. American exceptionalism is what allowed our national travesties to be swept under the rug, to be forgotten and ignored in our public discourse. American exceptionalism led us West, claiming land we deemed as the manifestation our god-given destiny without any regard for the Natives. American exceptionalism led us to the McCarthy Era, where any inkling of opposing thought was considered treason. American exceptionalism leads us to bomb innocent people today in foreign countries without batting an eye. But when bombings happen within our border, they are considered acts of “terrorism.” Makes you wonder.
Every year, I find myself drinking the “America #1 Kool-Aid” less and less. But even with her baggage, I’m proud to call myself a patriot. While patriotism and exceptionalism are not exactly mutually exclusive, they should be considered diametrically opposed. If you believe you are the exception, then you act without any worry for consequences. If you can accept criticism and act for the love of country with the consequences in mind, then that’s patriotism.
Every time I travel, I meet a number of people whose dreams are to either work or live in the United States. Despite its political landscape and all its faults, America still seems to be the shining beacon upon a hill for those around the world (except for some snobby Europeans, undoubtedly). There’s no place on Earth where so many people can enjoy the combination of a higher standard of living, quality education, and opportunities for prosperity.
Does this mean we’re perfect? Absolutely not. Being a patriot means we can acknowledge our internal problems without questioning our love for country. Being a patriot means we can celebrate our accomplishments while remembering our mistakes. Being a patriot means we’re growing and moving forward, not clawing for the glories of our muddled past. America is great because we learn from its mistakes.
My problem with American exceptionalism is that it creates an “us” versus “them” mentality, that America is some exclusive club that only the privileged few get to enjoy. This sort of mentality usually translates into immigrant-phobia. Because “they” are coming to take “our” jobs. “They” want to impose their culture on “our” country. Take “our” country back from “them.” It’s a dangerous belief system to hold and often causes problems during times of tension. Look no further than recent events.
In the face of struggle and chaos, I hope that being an American can once again mean inclusiveness. I hope that our love for country can help us welcome those who seek to live and work here. I hope that our patriotism will first prompt our attention inwards and fix the problems that ail our country before we dabble in building others. So be a patriot, not an exceptionalist.
– B. Kim