Memorial Day Weekend: Beach BBQs, booze and bikinis avail in the spaces between us paying homage to all those soldiers who fought and died (or, are fighting and dying, as we speak) for us. US. Americans. The U-S-A. But as I write this, I can’t help but think about all the awful – AWFUL – human-caused tragedies that have happened in this nation of ours these last few months. Boston. Sandy Hook. New Orleans (that one on Mother’s Day, of all days). There are more that I’m forgetting on account of mom-brain, I’m sure. The media images and stories still make me sick. They still make us ALL sick, regardless of age, race or gender. This Memorial Day, I can’t help but think of all those families who have involuntarily died. And as a grown woman raising two little girls, I also can’t help but wonder what my grandpas (now passed on) would’ve thought of all this madness. (I actually have a few hunches, one of them involving lining up each despicable person directly responsible for these human-caused tragedies and just shooting them dead for all the irreparable pain they’ve caused… but that’s another story.) Long story short: I’m pretty sure both my grandpas would be utterly disgusted.
Both of my grandpas fought in WWII. My parents reminded my sister and I of this from time to time growing up, but to be perfectly honest it really never resonated with me until this year… NOW, actually. Ok, they fought in a war I used to think in my head. Didn’t everyone do that back then? Now, I GET how remarkable it really was. You see, both of my grandpas were Armenian-Americans who also happened to be the FIRST generation of their families born in America. Despite that their parents (my great-grandparents) were immigrants and struggled to make ends meet and learn English, they protected this country. This country. Their country. Our country. Was that just the trend of what young men did back then? I don’t know. Were they drafted? Can’t remember the history. Were there too few options for them otherwise? Maybe. Did they just develop a deep pride, gratitude and sense of belonging in this country that they were born and raised in, despite prejudices, hardships and hatred that their families endured during that time? I’d like to think so. But by all evidence that I personally remember as a kid, they loved and respected the USA and the freedom that it represented. Remember, they were born to and raised by “immigrants.”
So I guess the big question on my mind lately is this: Do current immigrants love this country in the same way? Some probably do. Some probably don’t.
I never thought about this stuff before… but I do now. Lately, I notice how fragmented we can be as Americans, only to truly join together “as Americans” when a beyond-horrific event strikes. (I’m not talking about being fragmented because of social media, Facebook, Twitter, online communication… I’m talking about being really fragmented as a social structure within our immediate communities.) It disappoints me. Maybe it’s just a reality of living in the salad bowl/melting pot of Los Angeles?
I’m the first to celebrate our individual ethnic backgrounds, histories, traditions and religions, but being Americans FIRST and flying the same flag – and making it a point to tell our kids that those stars and stripes mean “freedom” – is what binds us together AS AMERICANS. I will never understand how some who choose to live in this country fly their heritage’s flag above and/or over our American one, or how some don’t give a hoot-and-a-half about learning English and/or don’t bother using it in public business places and schools. I will also never understand how some refuse to believe that it IS possible to live, breathe and celebrate your ethnic culture AND be a through-and-through red-white-and-blue American at the same time. IT IS POSSIBLE. I only know this because I have four grandparents whose families did it when they were children and two parents who followed their lead to teach my sister and I that being an ‘American first’ was very, very important. Yes, I am already starting to teach my girls that we are Americans who happen to have an ethnic Armenian heritage, as opposed to the other way around.
Reminding ourselves that we’re ALL Americans FIRST is matters for our kids. Being ‘Americans first’ keeps our communities together. Being ‘Americans first’ preserves our sense of belonging. Being ‘Americans first’ enhances our respect for one another. I’m not suggesting we discard our ethnic histories and traditions, but if we keep asserting that our varied cultural backgrounds are more important than the actual nation we live in, what’s going to happen to our kids? What will happen to the fabric of our nation? (This is beginning to sound like I wrote it in 1950, I know. You’d think I parade around my neighborhood dressed as the Statue of Liberty or something.)
This Memorial Day, this mom is seeking out local activities (a parade!) to kickstart the ‘lessons’ for my girls about our all-important place in this nation. I’ll also remember to say a prayer for the families whose lives will never be the same (on account of American-hating criminals), remember to say ‘thank-you’ in my heart for all our soldiers who have given up so much over the years… and also remember my Cigar-Smoking and Santa-Dressing grandpas and what they stood for before I knew them. I’ll enjoy my American flag out front, waving from my porch as my girls point to it and LadyP shouts “Freedom!” when I quiz her what it means (just as I taught her when I shuttled them out to the yard after their naps and made such a big deal about putting it up in the first place). I’ll also remember to wash down my front porch on account of their messy popsicle drippings from when we had the actual (and yes, very cheesy) flag-placing production.
But most importantly, I’ll remember to wish that we all recognize how we’re Americans FIRST. TOGETHER.
Wow. Who knew that having babies could turn you into such a soldier?