It seems appropriate that on the 4th of July I’m tackling a post that has been percolating for awhile – patriotism in both Argentina and America.
In America, the 4th of July (aka Independence Day, aka America’s Birthday) commemorates the Thirteen United States of America’s adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, declaring independence from Great Britain. As the famous first two sentences state:
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
We were fortunate to be in Argentina for one of their most important national holidays – 25th of May – which marks the 1810 start of Argentina’s War of Independence from Spain. In a few days, Argentinians will mark another key holiday – July 9th – when the formal Declaration of Independence was issued in 1816.
Back to the present.
As we prepared for our Rotary exchange we were frequently reminded of a key component of our experience. We would represent not only our communities and our state, but our country. For many in Argentina, we would be the first Americans they would have met in person. Their opinions and ideas of what it meant to be American would have been developed through the mass media – movies, television and the news.
And vice versa, the Argentine families we would live with and the Rotarians we would break bread with would represent their entire country – their hopes, dreams, passions and concerns.
Chief among those passions and concerns was the discussion of patriotism, pride in one’s country and respect and understanding of its past and that impact on its future.
These were my favorite moments throughout the exchange. Whether in a school classroom or over a cup of coffee, at a family asado or a Rotary dinner – struggling to put into words what it meant to be an American, what I liked most about my country, what I wished could be different, what I thought would change. Answering those questions without the pretext of party affiliation or assumed philosophical leanings was refereshing and eye-opening.
If there is one thing I can say I loved most about the Argentine people it is their openness. Whether with cab drivers or elected officials or host families, every one wanted to talk about the current state of their country and how they felt about their future. With a host family I now consider dear friends, we talked about patriotism. From their perspective, Argentinians had lost pride in their country and didn’t have the awareness and respect for their history and past like they should in order to move forward into the future. They cared more about their futbol teams than their nation. In Spanish, my host father wrote,
Nosotros los argentinos, entendemos amar a la patria o al pais cuando defendemos nuestra camiseta de futbol. Creo que es mal entender lo que es querer a un pais. Nuestra deuda es que un pais notable es cuando sus habitantes paguen sus impuestos sin protestar, los gobiernos no sean corruptos y lo ejerzan con sabiduria y con intachable moral. El dia que que eso suceda, nuestro pais sera de primer nivel, porque tenemos mucho material humano de excelente nivel academico, materias primas muy variadas.
From my perspective, we were exposed to a significant amount of pride and respect for Argentina’s history. In nearly every city we saw odes to Jose de San Martin – the Liberator of Argentina, and visited historical museums marking the influence of the indigenous people, the early settlers and the liberation from Spain.
It was also interesting to hear how many Argentinans perceived Americans – as patriotic, confident and full of pride for their country. Stars and stripes flying high regularly from every home.
Unfortunately, I think the rancor, disrespectful discourse, partisanship and my own cynicism on the potential for cooperation and collaboration had clouded that view of my home. I needed to be reminded of the best of America.
There is no doubt I love my country, but it is not a blind love. And especially after my experience in Argentina, it is not an ethnocentric love. Put simply, there is always room for improvement Channeling Albert Camus, ‘Freedom is nothing else but a chance to be better.’
Here’s hoping that in America, and Argentina, we are always using our freedoms to push forward and be better nations.