I genuinely believe Americans are having an identity crisis.
When I first arrived in New York in 2009, I distinctly remember going to games at Yankee Stadium and having to stand up to the American anthem thinking, “Are we playing another country?” We Mexicans only sing the anthem when rivaled by a foreign nation; we conjure up our nationality only when being confronted by another flag. So the situation seemed odd to me.
My upbringing was very much Americanized. I grew up to envision myself in an American future of pompons and a Hollywodesque-cinderella kind of love. Of course, none of that actually came to be true when I moved to New York as an adult and went to art school. But something from childhood and watching those Hollywood movies did stay with me…
I knew from watching American movies that the American flag and being “American” was particularly special to my friends at the north in a way that my own country’s flag and nationality wasn’t. The USA anthem was sung at schools every day; people wore the American flag on their bodies as swimsuits or headbands, they would hang the flag outside their homes as if advising outsiders to beware, and they would yell “USA” at events that seemed to have a purely American public anyway.
This hammering of nationalism seemed odd to me at the time but now, it allows me to understand my friends in the north. Their national identity is very much linked to their identity as human beings.
It is not an uncommon trait in any country that an individual of it holds their entire identity to the borders of the nation they were born in. Yet the degree to which this is done may be held as questionable. When does a person’s identity, or that of a collective, pertain to borders rather than ideas or concepts?
As a Mexican, I see the flag of my country a handful amount of times a year: maybe at an international football game, a special national event (once or twice a year), etc. Granted, there is a large flag that overlooks the city I grew up in and currently live in but it’s not venerated for its symbolism as it is recognized as a tourist attraction.
My point is: my identity as a Mexican is only relevant when confronted with another nationalism but for Americans, it’s a constant state of being.
I can say this: I love my country. But loving my country means I accept everything it is. I accept its worst and its best. I understand that it is susceptible to corruption as it is susceptible to the most generous acts. I understand it is full of poverty whilst corruptly holding the world’s richest riches. I know cartels control the government and the government controls companies. I have no qualms or idealisms about my country…
But I do have faith. I have faith in our people and our innovations. We know how to laugh about our own struggles like it’s no one’s business. We can create memes and make fun of ourselves in one second of any event and apologize to no one. Even in the most idyllic of situations we find comedy and relief because we bow to no one. The difference is that at our worst, we know who we are and where we stand. At yours, I’m not so sure you do.
So we ask of you: at your worst, do you know who you are?