A British-American bluestocking living in the UK writes about politics, pop culture, and emerging new paradigms as they unfold on both sides of the Atlantic. (New content.)

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Miss Independent...Miss Patriotic...Miss Home

I grew up in the 60's...and I went to Catholic school. More than that, I grew up in a totally Hispanic town in Texas. While the Vietnam war raged, our parents were busy attempting to forge their own Hispanic-American dream. We listened to the Beatles and read "Life" magazine and cried when Bobby Kennedy was shot. But the world of protests, LSD and the "Summer of Love" were as far away as Mongolia to us. What we saw of the world outside came to us via Walter Cronkite on the evening news. We sat and ate our TV dinners and saw the real world in black and white.

Our one brush with a famous protest happened when we were about 10 years old. Cesar Chavez was leading a march on behalf of the farmworkers. He was goin to march from our town on the border of Texas to Austin, the state capital, a distance of 450 miles. They assembled at our courthouse which was located next to the Catholic school. We could hear them chanting as we tried to focus on our math problems. We were desperate for morning recess so we could go out and see what was happening. When the bell rang, we all ran out behind the school building and we heard the cries of: "Huelga! Huelga!" (Strike! Strike!) We could see some of the placards and some of the people. The braver boys in our class started to scale the walls to get a better look and would call down to the rest of us who were wearing skirts (school dress code) with reports of what they could see. It was the most excitement we would have that year. The nuns came out and ordered us to get back inside the school. We learned something important that year. We learned the art of peaceful protest. When the nuns would ask us to do things that we objected to, we would start to chant: "Huelga! Huelga!" It never worked, but felt a bit more empowered after we saw Chavez so close to our school.

I remember being very anti-Vietnam war, anti-Nixon. I even campaigned for McGovern. All of us in town were Democrats. Except for one of my friends, I think we all were Democratic. I was a pacifist. I wore a big peace sign medallion and got the first pair of wire-rimmed glasses in my class. I became a hippie at heart, though I was still a cheerleader and president of my class. You couldn't tell by how I dressed, but I was very anti-establishment. I was stunned by incidents like My Lai and Kent State. I watched Nixon resign and was gleeful. I didn't think that what my country was doing in Vietnam and Cambodia was right and I was vocal about it. I was at that point a "liberal". But I realize that even during those years, I was always campaigning and concerned about justice and liberty.

Somehow between adolescence and mature adulthood, something shifted. Nine-eleven happened. George Bush happened. I travelled extensively. I went to Israel and saw how houses were all equipped with "safe rooms" against incoming bombs. I saw the extreme wealth and poverty blocks from each other in China. I learned to build fences in the Australian bush where there was no law at all. Then, England happened. (And not in that order.) I was able to see how people in other countries perceived us. I saw how other people lived. I came to visit England right after 9-11 and the support for Americans was so strong. Everywhere I went, people would tell me how much they supported us in our grief. But then, Bush happened and Iraq happened and our reputation around the world suffered. We were buffoons in the eyes of the world. It was not pretty.

Then, I came to live in England and I was able to see socialism at work. This country is monitored around the clock. I have seen big government first hand and see how it is choking free enterprise. I have seen how socialism has bred not only apathy among the young, but the idea that the government alone has to provide for its people...not with grants to start businesses or with money for education but with hand-outs for everything. It's one thing when a single mother needs food and shelter to provide for her children. But it's quite another to have to pay taxes so that sex offenders can have free housing and food.

I had my own rude awakening with the bureaucracy in the United Kingdom. I applied for my residency here, submitted all the papers and had fulfilled all the requirements. The Home Office (which is the equivalent of the Immigration Service in the US) kept my passport for almost two years. They just were "too busy" to respond to my request. They kept my papers for so long, that they had to ask me again to fill out and send the same papers all over again. It finally took some advocacy by our MP, Lord Michael Ancram to get them to give me my residency and passport. I was unable to travel anywhere in those two years. Back in the States, my mother's house flooded and a dear relative died and I was prohibited from travelling. "If you go...you will have to start the process all over again...." And they meant that I would have to start my residency again. That would mean I would have to come back and stay in the country for another three years and then re-apply after that and wait another..well, as long as they would take. It was sheer and utter madness. It wasn't just the long wait. It was the fact that the government was issuing passports, residency, housing and hand-outs to...suspected terrorists. This was beyond belief. An American woman could not get residency even though she had fulfilled all requirements, but the government was rubber-stamping passports left and right for people who shouted, "Death to Great Britain!" I thought we were Allies. Apparently, not.

Most of all, I have seen how socialism has taken away the ability of a people to have a dream. The cynicism prevalent here has even affected my own visionary ability. I began to realize the full impact of the amazing experiment that a few men and women (yes, there were women) instigated over two hundred years ago in America. The scroll that declared "independence" from England. They declared independence from "taxation without representation" and from the oppressive policies of a country that was out of touch with their subjects. I realized the immense optimism of a group of people who would not give up their dream and were willing to die for it. Living here has infused me with a great respect and admiration for what the founders of the United States forged so very long ago.

As Americans, generally, we are happy when others succeed. What we like to say is: "That's fantastic....one day that will be me, tool!" But here, people are angry when people do well. Or they are cynically jealous. And usually that involves being attacked. Sometimes it's overt. But the worst kind of attack, is the covert one and the Brits are great at that. They smile and tell you how "wonderful" they think you are and then later you find out that they were busy disassembling you as soon as you turned around. This is a harsh country. It is a country that does not allow people to have hope or faith. Both are very outre. Yes, this is my adopted country and I have had the fortune to meet some lovely people here. But I don't enjoy having to censor every word, every action...it doesn't matter what it is...if I speak out candidly, well, I'm so American...if I say nothing...I'm an American snob. If I pay someone a compliment, or give them a gift...they automatically wonder what I want from them. (Egads! I grew up in Texas, where people are actually raised to be polite and generous.) I've decided not to give a damn anymore. I got tired of attempting to be kind to cynics. It doesn't work. What you see is what you get with Americans. Not... what you see is not at all what you will see tomorrow...which is how it is here.

As for politics...I don't want America to be sold out to socialism wrapped up as "it won't work unless the government takes over". I have seen what "government take overs" have done to this once very proud and hard-working island. There are still the glorious old men who fought during the Great Wars to preserve freedom and liberty here. I've met them and talked to them. They inspire me, but they are dying. There are a lot of servicemen and women here who understand the cause of liberty. There are good people here who work hard for a living and are being taxed out of their skins to support the free-wheeling, free-spending of the current government. The voices of dissent are being stilled and hushed up...it's not politically correct to speak out for freedom and for liberty and for love of country here. To pledge any sort of allegiance to Great Britain might offend all the immigrants from the other countries who came here. That is ridiculous.

In America, all of us are immigrants. My grandparents were immigrants. My grandfather moved to America for a better life. I remember meeting a man who was offended when I said to him, "But you are Mexican...you were born there." His eyes flashed and he said sternly: "I am an American now. Never say I am Mexican." Our country has become powerful because immigrants came and made it great by living the dream and being proud to be American first. If you come to Great Britain, live on welfare, get free housing and your education paid for and then preach hate and advocate terrorism...what are you doing here? I believe in the right to protest when governments are mistreating their constituents or when policies are askew. But if you are getting a free ride, isn't that rather like biting off the hand that feeds you? I am sad for this country and how fear has struck at the heart of what is right. If you are living off the goodwill of the country that has had the courtesy to allow you in, you have no right to preach hate and terror against it! I think that's only fair.
The government didn't have any qualms about witholding my passport. I suppose that witholding the passport of an American who reads incessantly and grows exotic African violets would not spark an international incident, right? No one was going to accuse the Home Office of not being politically correct to withold the passport of an American. Oh, didn't I mention that? Americans are the only group that are allowed to be skewered in the media here. It's okay to take potshots at all of us. We are perceived as ignorant, slobby, uneducated and crass. The interesting bit is that I have met more people who fit that description in my sojourn here than in my whole American life back across the pond. Mr Darcy? He is a fictional character Polite society? Not anymore.

Wrong or not, with all its flaws, with all its imperialistic incursions under the guidance of the misguided, I still love my native country. We must preserve the original tenets upon which this country was founded. That is what will keep us strong. We must not be viewed as "war-mongers" or "imperialists" nor should we take that route ever again. But neither can we appear weak and not support countries that are desperately crying out for a democratic voice (like Burma or Iran or Tibet). They look to us as a guiding light, they aspire to have what we have in America. To simply look the other way while they are being massacred in the streets is heinous. When our nation was fighting for its life, the French came to our aid. How can we not help others to secure freedom for themselves? Yes, I understand that it is more "complicated", we live in a "global" maze that doesn't lend itself to just "help someone" like that. Please do not patronize me. It was complicated for France to come to the aid of a few scraggly soldiers who were fighting against England...the superpower of its day. Don't tell me that it cannot be done. It can. It just takes courage. Where is our courage, America? Where is our courage, Great Britain?
No, we cannot invade countries to avenge our father's failure. We cannot fund a country's war on someone else and then turnaround and wage war on the same country we funded, a few years later. That is unethical and immoral. We must return to the integrity of the Founders of our country. That is why the American democracy has withstood throughout the decades.
We don't need to be happy with all the policies of a country to be patriotic. No, we are far from perfect. America has committed grave errors abroad and at home. We must come clean, make reparations and move on. But having lived and visited other countries, no one has what we have in the United States. We were given a constitution that guaranteed us rights. Despite the fact that it is being left by the wayside, the Constitution of the United States is one of the most important documents ever written and ratified. The USA must hold on to its ideals of liberty and freedom. The immigrants who continue to flock to our shores come because they want to share that American dream. We must continue to fight and uphold the cause of freedom, liberty and justice for all. We must continue to uphold our Constitution. It is so important. I live in a country where Big Brother is not some fantasy. It is real. And it is frightening.

On this Fourth of July, I am proud to be American born and a patriot... I wish the same liberty of expression for my adopted country even if they haven't been exactly welcoming. But I still believe that even Great Britain can become "Jerusalem the Golden" once again. It will just take some courage.

Freedom, liberty and justice for all.... is not just for Americans...it is for everyone, everywhere.