I’m not really proud to be an American. Pride necessitates achievement, and I did not “achieve” anything by my birth into this country. Whenever I see bumper stickers and signs professing pride in their American heritage, I wonder sometimes what they are proud of, for they, too, did little for their citizenship except that their mothers happened to live within the country’s borders.
This doesn’t mean I have no patriotic sentiment. I fiercely defend American values of freedom and liberty. I participate in politics, voice my opinions, and hold Constitutional rule of law as sacrosanct. I write constantly of political affairs and devour American history. Though I may not be proud of being an American (in the strictest sense of the word), I love being one.
All thanks goes to my parents who raised me to be an American. They taught me that the United States was a unique place with unprecedented freedoms and a high degree of civil liberties. They taught me liberty was special and that freedom must always be protected with constant, unwavering vigilance. My parents were Korean immigrants who left their home country to a strange, foreign land, learned a new language, and watched painfully as their children drifted away from their Korean heritage to adopt this culture that they didn’t fully understand but knew to be special. My parents could claim achievement in becoming American, but they claim no pride, ask no praise, demanding no prize. Instead, they are filled with a deep gratitude and a profound humility that out of billions of people, they were lucky and blessed enough to reach the shores of America.
And perhaps that is the word we should use – humbled. What moves me to tears when I watch a stream of dignified veterans march past me, heads held high? What about America causes my heart to swell every presidential election as we transfer power peacefully, no matter which party won? From where do these emotions spring up when I read of injustice and abuse in our country, dimming the American dream? No pride exists; I could not be counted as “worthy” for these blessings, nor could many of my fellow brothers and sisters beside me. We just happened to be born in the right place at the right time. Instead, I am humbled, deeply grateful for the chance I have to be a citizen here.
Pride is unbecoming of an American. Pride is reserved for aristocrats, the high and mighty, those who love power and praise. America should have no hubris, no arrogance, no sense of entitlement. When America is proud, she is indulgent, she is corrupt, she is weak. But when America is humble, she is dutiful, she is responsible, she is grateful, she is strong, and she is loved around the world as a beacon of freedom.
Though we should earn no praise, chance has given us this heavy burden to keep the American experiment alive. It is our duty to cultivate a love for liberty, a knowledge for politics, an appreciation for compromise, a desire for peace, a pursuit for equality, an attitude for freedom. We must understand that our political birthright is a difficult and uncomfortable one – we must allow all ideas a voice, all creeds a chance, all religions a say, all minds a forum, all citizens a vote – even if we disagree with them vehemently. We must endure the hatred of tyrants and madmen, the contempt of critics, and turmoil from within. Because we allow no one to define who we are but us, we must constantly rediscover who we are for ourselves. We face our demons and account for our past errors. We stare into the abyss and work for improvement. Our work may never be done, but as Americans, this work is now ours.
This thought should sober us as a country. We live in an age of contention, but we have always lived in such an age. For America is not a finished project but a work in progress. We live not only on the fruits of our parents’ labors, but we must plant the seeds ourselves so that the dream can continue to carry on with our children. This thought should sober us. Ours is not a birthright of pride and accomplishment; it is a work of humility and gratitude.