Thursday, September 22, 2011

Chew Yung Phat

Washington, District of Columbia

Coming into Washington today, I stop to take a picture of a military neighborhood barricaded and posted with military warning signs.  My camera won't turn on and has moisture behind the screen.  Rightfully so, the whole trip in I bug the fuck out.  I get into the surrounding D.C. area fine, but looking for directions on my phone the service unavailable.  I try to call someone for directions only to hear my phone service is on hold because a bill hasn't been payed.  For the next four hours I ride around blind, stopping frequently to look at maps and on-display iPhones until I find the place I'm staying.

My cousin is putting me up for a few days.  I haven't seen her since I was two, but growing up had seen pictures of her.  With our shared experiences of the family it's easy to feel familiar.  She works for the State Department and served in the Peace Corps in Togo, a little African country bordering Ghana.  She's remarkably intelligent and it's refreshing to be able to talk to someone else intelligently about the family.


She couldn't bear to get rid of her Bush poster.
I doubt these monuments would bear any meaning to me if they lacked their cultural context.  If I were to go to another country to view their cultural landmarks without a historical basis, I might be taken with their complexity or artistic significance, but would feel no personal connection to them.  Being here I feel personally affected.  Large, marble constructions draw symmetric parallel lines, framing tributes to important events and people.  Between tourists reinforcing squirrels bad behaviors and numerous groups of foreign tongues, the sight seems more realistic and beautiful.  The monuments don't need some artificial purity or seclusion for a photo-op, they need to show the crowds of tourists come to see the capitol of the Western World's cultural standard.

I don't feel it right to begrudge these privileges granted to me by living here.  To decry a hegemonic beast while safely resting on its shoulders seems a privileged position in and of itself.  But I'm not angry like some.  I'm frustrated, I hope for accommodations to what I think is right, I regret a less than perfect record.  But no place is a utopia and I don't feel shame for pride.  We've fucked up in the past and present and will again in the future, but by and in large we are progressing toward something better.  People in empires before have likely argued a similar stance: not perfect, but better.  What differs between them and I is that I live here and now.  This empire and culture are mine, and through all its tribulations and history, there is a general movement toward better ethics.  

I don't need her to always be in the right to love her, nor is my affection any less when I criticize her.  I think this is the most important distinction for patriotism.  Questioning the country does not make you unpatriotic.  The unflinchingly single-minded who defend the country against all concerns are not patriots but Jingoists.  To follow devotedly without ever analyzing her actions will not make the country stronger or more resolved, but will bring about stagnation and radical festering.

Patriotism is not an unquestioned devotion nor in the removed clades of those critical of anything the country does.  The concept lies between the two, with an appreciation for the benefits granted but a critical eye focused on decisions to make us a better nation.  Just please, let me smoke my weed and have my abortions in peace.

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