I have been fortunate to have a mother keen on showing her children the United States. During numerous family vacations, I have explored national parks from Yosemite to the Blue Ridge, travelled through corn fields in Nebraska and had ice cream from the Ben and Jerry's store in Vermont, and smelled the summer both in the hot, dry West, and the moist, warm South.
Given all this, it should come as no surprise that I'm pretty fond of my homeland. It probably also won't shock anybody that if I had my way, our national anthem would be focused more on the beauty of our great nation, rather than a bloody battle. My favorite patriotic song is "America the Beautiful," and the sentiments in the song are true to my experiences exploring this amazing country (scroll to the bottom of this page for a visual representation).
The 4th of July was yesterday. As the daughter of a former Quaker, and a liberal vehemently opposed to the War in Iraq, the 4th has been difficult for me the past few years. I love my country, but it is difficult for me to fall in with patriotic fervor when I hear that many of our young troops took the opportunity yesterday to reenlist - in fact, it makes me feel queasy. However, this post is not designed to be a rant against the current president and his posse. Instead, I'd like to talk about what does make America beautiful.
In travelling, and living, in different parts of the U.S., my parents gave me a gift. They helped me see, not with words, but through observation, the many ways that Americans are similar, despite differences in accents, social class,* race/ethnicity, religion, etc.
The truth is that we are all Americans. People in red states are just as friendly (and sometimes more so) than people in blue states. And as a sociologist, I know intellectually that there are similar processes underlying all of our behaviors. But it's deeper than that. We are all connected by kinship to this country. That same kinship causes young men and women to reenlist, while it causes me to go to peace marches and structure my classes in such a way that my students can learn the tools necessary to view societies objectively (at least this is my hope). It also causes me to want to know ever more about the world we live in, both geographically and sociologically.
It is too much to hope that all Americans will get to experience the richness of our country. Despite apathy on the part of some, there are real socioeconomic barriers to travelling around the country for many.
However, regardless of how much of our country we may all individually see, the 4th of July for me is in large part about remembering what makes us whole, and what makes us beautiful. Personally, the beauty of the people and places that are already within our borders is enough, and remembering such beauty causes me to feel quite patriotic.
*These two movies are actually quite interesting looks at the social implications of status characteristics. I highly recommend both of them.