Loving America Even When She’s Bad

My mother, the first of four children born in this country to Italian immigrants, is the queen of all things red, white, and blue. Her father came through Ellis Island in the 19-teens and my parent’s house has little Statues of Liberty, bunting, and flags in unexpected places.

Mom personally tends the marker in the plaza downtown that lists the names of our town’s fallen from every conflict from the Seminole Wars through the first Gulf War. They didn’t leave much room after that one, thinking that would probably be all the names to add for a long time, but now there are more.

Every Memorial Day and 4th of July and Veteran’s Day, Mom gets up early to hang the wreath and the flag, and every evening on these days she goes back to collect them so they won’t be stolen or vandalized or desecrated.

But that’s what has happened to my flag, to my sense of patriotism. It’s been stolen by people who don’t understand what it means, it’s been hijacked and prostituted to support an evil war that is killing thousands of people who were just trying to get through it and hoping it would end soon and they’d get their lives back. It’s been made into a logo and slapped on the back of SUVs with the code phrase, “Support our troops.” What that really means is “Support Bush, right or wrong. But probably wrong.”

4th of July, 2002 I flew an American flag in front of my house. So did almost all my neighbors. This year, I see only one flag, and it’s the next street over. My mom keeps her own sense of patriotism, inherited as it was from a man who was told the streets of this country were paved with gold and who loved it even when he found out they weren’t, even when he struggled to find work, even when he taught himself to speak English by sounding the words out in newspapers left behind on the subway, even when he was called a WOP, a dago, a dirty Italian. Her gratitude for our way of life is never diminished, not by Bush, not by Rumsfeld, not by Rove.

If I fly a flag today, it will be for Mom, not for any of them. It will be for the men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan who just want to be home, not for their chicken hawk leaders. It will be for the memory of the idea of what this country was and can be again, not for what it is now.

Happy 4th of July Mom.


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