Sunday, July 05, 2020

A Patriotism of Improvement

Circle Pines resident Khoi Truong Minh Phan had a thoughtful letter-to-the-editor in Friday's edition of the Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper. As you'll see, it's all about understanding patriotism as our efforts to improve our country.

It was early morning and I stood outside class, lamenting societal woes; someone told me that I “should go back to Vietnam if you think America’s bad.” That stuck with me. Why is it that this patriotism inspires, not action, but dismissiveness?

Is there a better patriotism?

Is the mother working two jobs more patriotic than the inheritor of a business with a flag in his yard? Is the young Black man protesting against police brutality more patriotic than the warden with the stars-and-stripes hat? Is the student marching for her life more patriotic than the corporate lobbyist with years of media training?

I believe the answer to all of these is “yes.” I believe in a patriotism of improvement, not one focused on a blind ideal of America but rather one understanding of the chasm between that and our reality. History has validated this gap’s bridgings, from the freedom amendments after the Civil War, to the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote, to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal and Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society, to the judicial activism during the civil rights movement.

Bitter partisanship, which characterizes the contemporary debate, was behind these triumphs. But I believe that they were motivated by a patriotism beyond deification. I believe that patriotism is petitioning the government, voting and filling out the census, not defying stay-at-home orders and occupying the State Capitol. I believe that patriotism is a sense of obligation beyond oneself, to see that one’s actions have repercussions. Most importantly, I believe in fighting society’s injustices.

So, why shouldn’t I just leave if I see so many problems here? Because on arriving, I owe it. America took me in, that wide-eyed boy from a distant country, and with my parents’ work, gave me a comfortable life.

My dad told me to see our backyard – itself quintessential America – as a blessing, to improve and perfect. And America’s the best backyard on Earth, so why not help it out?

– Khoi Truong Minh Phan
Star Tribune
July 3, 2020

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “America the Beautiful”
Ibram X. Kendi: “Patriotism on the Fourth of July is Resistance”
Michael Sean Winters on 2018’s Grim Fourth of July
Queer Native Americans, Colonialism, and the Fourth of July

Related Off-site Links:
Trump Doubles Down on Divisive Messaging in Speech to Honor Independence Day – Jeremy Diamond and Jason Hoff (CNN, July 4, 2020).
This Independence Day, Generation Z Celebrates Its Moment of Radical Hope – Gwyneth Bernier (Common Dreams, July 4, 2020).
Thousands Take Part in Black 4th March Through Downtown Minneapolis – Christine T. Nguyen (MPR News, July 5, 2020).
The Hollow Man and the Fourth of July Fireworks – David Weiss (Full Frontal Faith, July 5, 2020).
Fifth of July: An Independence Day Like No Other, and the Real Struggle Lies Ahead – Andrew O'Hehir (Salon, July 5, 2020).

Image: Photographer unknown.

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