Why I’m proud to be an American, and why that’s okay

I celebrated Canada Day earlier this week by embracing my Canadian heritage, but today is the 4th of July, Independence Day. Even though my family has a long history in America, I’ve struggled to feel a sense of belonging as an American all my life — something I’ve begun exploring in My Fellow Americans.

James Becraft and McCoy Logging Crew
My great-great-grandfather James Samuel Becraft with his logging crew in Skagit County, Washington in the 1880s or 1890s.

Too often, one person’s patriotism is simply militant nationalism experienced by another. What makes American patriotism such an important value, while Russian or Chinese nationalism remains something that so many Americans fear? Isn’t the latter simply patriotism — something so often touted as an inherent good? I would argue that patriotism and nationalism are two sides of the same coin, and both sentiments to be avoided if we don’t want to doom humanity to a future full of conflict. It’s hard for me to be proud of my country in relation to all others — especially in light of our nation’s darker moments.

Half-jokingly at first, I started a list earlier this week of “Things that make me proud to be an American,” beginning with corn dogs and baseball — both classic American inventions in that they (arguably) improve on the original ideas brought here by immigrants. As I added to the list, it became clear that there really are things that I’m proud of as an American. (I tweeted them all today, likely annoying a fair number of my few followers.)

The people of the United States have accomplished great things in our history, and we as a people can justly take pride in these achievements. People like Benjamin Franklin, Martin Luther King, Jr., Nikola Tesla, and Henry David Thoreau personify what it means to be American, and each has contributed enormously to the philosophy, science, and culture of our country. Each of these people has moved America forward.

Human beings are an inventive species. Throw enough of us on a continent and we’re sure to come up with some good ideas. The telephone and telegraph, combined with computers like ENIAC, programming languages like FORTRAN, and markup languages like GML, all set the stage for the Internet and the World Wide Web. Poets like Walt Whitman, Robert Lowell, and Galway Kinnell capture the American spirit like no others — from celebration to dissent. NASA and the US Space Program bring us closer to a life beyond this planet we were born on.

None of these accomplishments — whether scientific, artistic, technological, philosophical, or literary — diminishes what other nations have accomplished; all of them contribute not just to this nation’s future, but to the future of humanity itself.

Yes, I’m proud proud to be American, but I’m also proud to have been born in Japan, proud to be one quarter Canadian, proud of my Indian / First Nations heritage, and proud of my immigrant ancestors who arrived from England (1620 in Plymouth), France (1635 in Virginia), Holland (1652 in New Holland), Sweden (1654 in New Sweden), Ireland (1689 in Delaware), Germany (1741 in Philadelphia), and everywhere else.

This is the kind of pride in America that my foreign-born, cynical, liberal self can feel without guilt. Migration and innovation are inherent to the human experience, going all the way back to our first ancestors in Africa. Thus, my pride in American achievement and my own immigrant ancestry is simply pride in knowing that I’m both a result and an example of an innately human story.

Neolithic tools - 'Ain GhazalMost of all, I’m proud to be part of the human race — a species born in Africa, a people who invented language, music, art, agriculture, literature, and the science that will someday take us to the stars. For me, America is just one stop on the human road from Africa to the stars. I’m proud to have taken a few small steps with my fellow humans along that journey.

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