Happy Independence Day!

Note: This was supposed to have been posted yesterday. Whoops.

On days like today, I’m left to consider my patriotism, or rather, my lack of patriotism. No, I had it right the first time.

As an American citizen my entire life, I have very little to compare my residence in the United States with. In 23 and a half years, I have spent a grand total of about four months in other lands, but without knowing too many foreigners, I still feel like I can say pretty confidently that people are people and the inhabitants in Finland, Australia or Turkey are no better or worse than the people who live down the street from me. Different, maybe, but not any better or worse.

But that’s just it, they are different. They come from different cultures with different belief systems and different way of acting. Is this why we celebrate America’s independence every July 4? Because other people in other countries are different from us? I don’t think it is, but it probably should be. Let me explain.

The celebration of the 4th of July began because of our established independence from England. The holiday started as a blind celebration. It became important, I guess, in the same way that it might be important for an 18-year-old, out of his parents’ house for the first time, to celebrate his new-found freedom. “We’re our own bosses, with no unfair rules to follow! We’ve broken free and can do whatever we want! Let’s shoot off some fireworks to prove it!” At least that’s the way I imagine it.

Over time, the United States became a pretty dominant force, as far as countries go. We are middle-aged men, who respect and get along with our parents, so what’s the point of throwing the big parties anymore? Wouldn’t it be nice to relax on the 4th of July instead of making a big to-do of our independence?

Instead, we’ve acted, not as the recently emancipated 18-year old, but the one who butchered his parents to earn that freedom. Every year, we have to remember another slaughter in order to hold on to that sense of community and nationalism. Or that’s the way I feel the holiday is fed to us every year. “It’s July 4th, remember to support our troops today!”

This is not an anti-war nor an anti-military blog post, though admittedly I don’t understand those things. I am not trying to diss our troops, though when they tell us to rise and applaud the men and women serving overseas during today’s pregame, I will not be joining in. I have nothing personally against any single member in the military. I just don’t understand why what they’re doing is more important than what I am doing. More importantly, I don’t understand why what they’re doing is supposed to be the meaning of my Independence Dy. I look at it much differently.

I have spent years of my life wondering exactly why I am supposed to love America. Like I said before, we’re all people; how does the place I was born or the place I live make me any different from anybody else. It was kind of a strange way that I found an answer.

It happened in the summer of 2008. Incidentally, this event occurred just after I returned from my four-month sojourn in Europe. This was the season after my summer covering the Chicago Fire on the radio. The Fire made a pretty serious announcement while I was gone and I was ready to go off on them when I returned. Only, I didn’t have the radio show anymore, so no one was really willing to listen. (This is why it’s important to have a radio show; even if no one actually is listening, you can always pretend they are.) So, I held my thoughts inside and never fully dictated them.

The Fire’s announcement was that they would now have Best Buy written across the front of their jerseys instead of the team name (It now says FIRE again, thank God). This bothered me tremendously, but what I found even more vexing was the total lack of outrage I heard from my fellow Fire fans. Why weren’t people angry?!

The consensus opinion seemed to be that it was OK to do this because that’s the way they do it in Europe. And after all, this was more their game than ours, wasn’t it?

Well, it burned me up. If the Chicago cubs became the Chicago Best Buys or the Best Buy Cubs, their fans would be up in arms. Why? Because that’s our sport. We can’t put advertisements on the uniforms in our sport! It’s not done here.

Here’s the thing, American soccer is our sport too. MLS is our league and should be treated as such. Some people are so concerned with trying to keep up with European football that they lose their sense of national identity. To me, that is what living in America is all about. It’s not supporting those fighting in wars just because their equipment is supplied by the US government; it’s supporting our shared culture.

I discovered a fascinating dynamic when I spent my four months travelling through Europe, something that didn’t really strike me until I had been home for a while. When I was living in a flat with 11 other American students, mostly from the midwest but not from Chicago, I spent a lot of time sparring with them about whose locale was best. When we were confronted together, though, by a Floridian or New Yorker, we banded together to defend the sensibilities of the midwest region. When all of us came upon a Brit (which actually happened sometimes in England), the entire troupe was able to unite against the ideas of the Englishmen. No arguments were ever serious, but it was fun to be a part of a local identity, a shared culture that exists on many different levels. I’m sure if any Martians showed up, we could all have gotten together to defend our beloved earth.

Over time, I have realized that nationalism comes from a love of your surroundings and those traits and ideas that you share with people from like backgrounds even though you may never have met. Even though my national pride may not extend much further than supporting the US at the olympics or arguing with a foreigner about who has the better food, I think that’s about as important as patriotism gets.

During last night’s broadcast, I somewhat facetiously, parodying Lee Greenwood’s song, said that I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I can watch baseball every night and see a cool fireworks show afterward. I meant those words as sincerely as I could have. Being from the United States doesn’t make my existence more important or meaningful than anyone else’s, but it does mean that I can be an American and if that involves getting a steady dose of baseball, pretzel rods and Tubz root beer than I am certainly proud to be here.

Coming next: One place in these United States I hate

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