In 1964 an engineering graduate student sailed on a 1000 passenger ship from Bombay to Genoa. Later that night he caught a train from Milan to London. From London he flew to New York. He took a bus to the Port of Ellis Island to process his immigration. This fourteen day journey began his road to the American Dream. He had eight dollars in his pocket. Years later, my father took his United States citizenship, pledging allegiance to the American flag with tears in his eyes.
My father always taught us we should feel lucky to live in America—a nation of liberty and justice for all. He had escaped a nation where the metanarrative left much to be desired. So he never passed up an opportunity to tell us to be proud Americans. I believed him. And why not? He’d never led me astray. He encouraged us to racially integrate too—he didn’t come to America for us to pursue homogenous social circles. Without a second thought, I integrated. I belonged, after all. Right?
In my young adulthood I couldn’t get enough of the clothing label Polo Sport by Ralph Lauren. During a trip to India at 26, I flaunted those Polo Sport shirts all over the city which had recently returned to its original name, Mumbai. The flaunting had zero to do with Ralph Lauren, and everything to do with the American flag logo. Sound smug? You’re right. According to every American citizen (including my father) I happened to live in the nation of nations.
Five years later, I got pulled over by two Memphis police officers. They said I was speeding. I wasn’t. They took my driver’s license, and I sat in my car listening to radio tunes. Eight songs later, I still waited. I think the officers read up on my entire medical, education, and work histories. They probably checked my credit history and dental records too. Twenty-five minutes later they released me. Sorry to disappoint you, officers, but I’m just a boring little nerd. This took place three days after 9/11. You’ll never guess what I had on during that traffic stop. Yep…a gray Polo Sport t-shirt bearing a huge American flag.
Around the same time, I rode an elevator for a dermatology appointment. A middle-aged woman out of nowhere began spewing profanities at me, followed by unsolicited advice on which nation I should take up residence. In that moment I realized the world needs more Geography geeks. And it’s true what they say—it’s always better to take the stairs.
Two years ago my boss asked me to submit my “legal entry” papers. I wasted no time to inform her that I entered the United States legally through the Canal de Vaginales. Would she have asked my white Canadian colleague to submit his legal entry papers? Little did she and the elevator lady know I was born in the Southern United States—over four decades ago. So why have I had the American flag waved in my face during times I wasn’t even sweating? By this time, I had long stopped wearing Polo Sport.
Should a national flag be used in this manner? Newsflash: God values people over flags. I doubt Jesus condones this flag idolatry that I was once guilty of myself. But some Americans take this idolatry and put it on steroids. This flag fanaticism has eroded my relationship with the banner of stars and stripes.
The world watches while we destroy not only buildings, cars, and cities, but each other. So much for haughty nationalism. This once proud American is now a heartbroken embarrassed American.