The American Flag, National Anthem, Football Player Kneelers, and Me

The American Flag, National Anthem, Football Player Kneelers, and Me May 31, 2018

The American flag and national anthem have been in the news a lot in the last few years. However, this controversy is not new. On the one hand, we have some Black American football players who kneel during NFL games, with their supporters close by (white and People of Color), to protest some things they see as inequality, racism, and oppression happening in the country. On the other hand, we have many Caucasian Americans (along with some POC allies) protesting the protest, saying that this is unpatriotic or just not the proper forum to address these grievances.  I’m not writing to take sides since the conflict is pretty deep and I imagine the solution, if there is one on this side of heaven, is equally deep. So there’s not enough room in this short blog to address this adequately. 

I’m writing to add my story and hopefully another dimension, perspective, or nuance to the issue.

Every time I hear the national anthem, I choke up. Every time I see the American flag, I hear the pledge of allegiance in my head, the one I’ve recited since first grade. As my sons have been in scouts the last nine years, I’m still reciting it. The truth is that I’ve never had a family member serve in the US military or law enforcement. But I have all the respect for them. Especially the 58,220 American soldiers who died during the Vietnam War for my freedom. And I have not forgotten the hundreds of thousands more who served under the Star Spangled Banner to spread freedom and democracy on behalf of the little guys living under more despotic regimes around the world.

No, as a refugee of war, when a young democratic South Vietnam, aided by America and her allies, lost a fierce civil war to communist North Vietnam, aided by the Soviet Union and China, thousands of people were tortured, killed, imprisoned, or persecuted, all for believing in a sovereign democratic state. The pain of losing your country is real. The pain of being paid less compared to my male counterparts in this country does not compare. That is why my enemy is not imperfect America. It is not even the gruesome legacy of White supremacy. And it is definitely not the white, Christian male.

I have no animosity or grudges against the white, Christian male, because for the most part, I’ve only had good experiences with them (this is also true regarding my interactions with folks from other races/ethnicities). I even married one, straight from the predominantly white, Lutheran church that sponsored my refugee family back in 1979. In fact, during the late 1970s and 1980s, white, Christian churches throughout America partnered with the US government to voluntarily sponsor tens of thousands of refugees from Southeast Asia, including Cambodia and Laos. These citizens had nothing to gain from doing so. It was Christians quietly living out their faith, with a compassionate heart for all of God’s children, that spurred them to take on the task of sponsoring non-European foreigners to immigrate to America. 

And because of these kind-hearted believers, who organized food drives, helped my parents to find work, donated hours of weekly childcare for the kids, along with other items of need, I was able to have a solid start as an American. Their actions in my early years in this country left a good taste of who Christians were. 

America-centric these folks may have been, even white nationalists they may seem. After all, who can blame them for sounding white when that’s the only skin they’d known their whole life? Who can blame them for loving their country and serving her ideals as espoused in the US Constitution, even sending adult children in harm’s way to serve in the armed forces? This is the same Constitution and government that allows for self-correction in the form of the Fifteenth Amendment, the Civil Rights Act, and other progressive laws passed since. My experience with predominantly white, Christian America has been the opposite of oppressive or racist. It’s been deeply heartwarming and at times exasperatingly delicate. Interracial marriage can be characterized the same way (but that is a topic for another day).

I also grew up with a father who was experiencing PTSD from his post-war escape journey, refugee camp experience, and adjusting to life as penniless immigrants. All I heard growing up was how evil and deceptive the Vietnamese Communists were. How sweet sounding was their political rhetoric, and how much the social justice movement in America resembled what they just fled from. 

Like other immigrants who fled despotic regimes in the Eastern European Bloc, Cuba, China, and North Korea, my parents were grieving survivors who hoped that their suffering would not be in vain. They wanted their children to live in freedom, have social and economic opportunities that were thriving for them in the former South Vietnam. They urged us kids to seize opportunities here in the land of the free.

America was, and is, a breath of fresh air. That is why when my parents became eligible to turn in their green cards and to take the tests to become naturalized US citizens in 1985, they were so proud to do so. And guess who helped Mom and Dad to study for and pass their citizenship tests? 

Vietnamese Refugee turns US Citizen
Vietnamese Refugee turns US Citizen

President Ronald Reagan was their hero in the 1980s. My parents were comforted to hear him talk about his vision of achieving peace through strength. There was hardly any mention about the racist, white Americans because the few incidences of discrimination Mom and Dad experienced in their new land paled in comparison to the suffering they endured from their own skin color back in their “homeland.” When you have to leave life and limb behind because of what your own brethren did in the name of equality and social justice, you have no more concept of “my people.”

That’s how I came to love America. Yes, the nation is majority Caucasian, and white-centric, but only a few of her citizens actually support or practice racism.  I have yet to meet one. Negative stereotypes and implicit bias—yes. Misguided notions of superiority/inferiority—yes. Abuse of power for greed and selfish ambitions—yes. Exclusivity and rigging the system to favor you and your kind—mostly likely. But the vast majority of Americans whether native born or naturalized citizens, in my experience, are like you and I–well-meaning, good people, trying to live well and do more good than evil.

I’ve had to unlearn some things I learned in childhood and young adult life, and my learning continues each year.

And that is why I love the Star Spangled Banner. It symbolizes a resilient people that keeps fighting for the more noble society. Indeed, this country has accepted me, given me legal status, and equal representation in the eyes of the law. Affirmative action and anti-discrimination laws have solidified her appeal as a more just and free country, at least when compared to the rest of the chaotic world. Her free-market capitalism, though cut throat, has attracted so many driven people seeking economic prosperity for themselves and their loved ones.

While some argue that America still needs to fix her problem with racism against POC, especially against her black brethren, good citizens from various persuasions will disagree on the best course going forward. While some focus on the third stanza of the national anthem as condoning the racist act of slavery, others point to the sacrifices made by men and women in uniform who fought for the ideals of this country as guided by the US Constitution. In fact, our constitution is a revolutionary document that has inspired numerous copycats from around the world. 

Personally, I have no ill feelings toward my fellow Americans who think differently from me. We all come from different history, family backgrounds, cultures, education, and life experiences–all of which help shape our perspectives. I will not protest anyone who feels the need to publicly protest. My enemy is neither the Vietnamese Communists, the Black Lives Matter group, nor the white supremacists. I will not write against the NFL or the anthem kneelers. I have no enemies and neither should you. 

Perhaps most importantly, I have been blessed with a faith from seeds that were planted in me many years ago. This Jesus has opened my eyes to see Him and He is everywhere. He is at work in our lives, constantly, behind the scenes, through people of various skin color. He is good, all the time. And He alone is great, the source of our hope out of this dark messy world.

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