Memorial Day Weekend: I’m beginning to realize the Memorial Day holiday is split between two chapters of life — Before Babies and After Babies. There’s the holiday that revolves around the beach, BBQs, booze and bikinis and then there’s the holiday that includes fighter jets flying overhead, ceremonies at cemeteries, parades and hanging a flag outside your front door to make sure your kids know why we get a random Monday away from work and school. (As we all know, I’m in the second portion of the program these days.)
Either way you slice that American pie, both versions of the holiday are for US. Americans. The U-S-A.
Between the pie, booze, bikinis, hot dogs and BBQ sauce… we’ve got to remember to tell the kids.
Tell them what? About the flag. Because there’s a problem with it lately and it’s up to us (our parenting) to fix it.
What is The Flag Problem? Well, it’s when someone (usually of some kind of rich, ethnic descent) would rather fly their own heritage’s flag instead of (or, above) the flag of our own country. It disappoints me. It makes heart ache for the soldiers fighting for our freedom and safety right now. It irritates me to the point of seriously wanting to turn to the offenders and say, “Hey, why don’t you move back there then…”
I say this as someone of rich, ethnic descent.
Because all those brave folks over the past few hundred years didn’t fight, die and experience worse than that for you to fly your ancestors’ country’s flag above and beyond the one we protect here in this country, our home.
Again, I say this as a bunch of immigrants’ great-granddaughter about 100 years after they arrived here.
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 the last few years. “Ok, they fought in a war,” I used to acknowledge in my head. “Didn’t everyone do that back then?”
Now, I GET how remarkable it really was: 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 against them, 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 — despite that they were born to and raised by immigrants who didn’t know how to speak English.
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 having kids, but man, I do now. I now notice how truly fragmented — and some will argue lately, absolutely divided — we are as Americans, only to truly feel some kind of emotional bond when a beyond-horrific event strikes.
Maybe I need to get over my own American pride?
I’m the first to celebrate our individual ethnic backgrounds, histories, traditions and religions, (it’s in my blood and I fully treasure, appreciate and celebrate it), but living as Americans FIRST and flying the American flag – while 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 to be equally both American and ethnic. I know because I’ve lived it myself for over 35 years. I also know this because I have four grandparents whose families lived 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. There’s freedom in that there flag, kids… and lots of folks sacrifice a whole lot so that we can live and breathe and eat and think the way we want. Respect them, respect that flag. Being ‘Americans first’ keeps our communities together. Being ‘Americans first’ preserves our sense of belonging. Being ‘Americans first’ enhances our respect for one another, even if we don’t agree with who so-and-so’s voting for.
If we don’t drill-sergeant this into our kids, no one will. It’s our job to tell them, to teach them, to live it. Or else.
I’m not suggesting we ditch 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 we (once again) marched in our local parade to honor and celebrate those who’ve done more than the rest of us could ever pony up to do. We stood up and applauded the sampling of troops that paraded through our little town’s showcase — for which my eyes started to water as I told my girls, “Clap for these guys… they keep us safe. Tell them thank you.” My girls applauded and watched…
Every Memorial Day, I also remind myself to say an extra prayer for the families whose lives will never be the same (on account of their loved ones’ courage to fight and protect). I 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 LadyP and LilMiss shout “Freedom!” when I quiz them what it means (putting our flag out front has been a big whoop-tee-do for the past few years, folks).
Most importantly, for this year, I’ll also wish that we all recognize how we’re Americans FIRST. TOGETHER.
Who knew that having babies could turn you into such a soldier?