Wednesday, October 06, 2010
16, La Bandera
It's emotion on a stick, that's what the flag is.
Though I was born in Mexico the green, white and red holds no feeling for me, pro or con. With no disrespect meant, it amuses me to no end that the Mexican food vendor around the corner offers a choice of salsa roja, salsa verde, or "a la bandera" on his excellent handmade sopes, huaraches and gorditas: a ladle of red sauce, a swath of cream, a strip of green sauce, laid side by side.
What doesn't amuse me is the stars and stripes. I know it brings grown men to tears. I know that its broad stripes and bright stars are comforting to many, symbolizing some powerful vision of fury and righteousness. I understand that it is revered as a sacred pennant, dripped in the blood of the fallen. I know you're supposed to love it, to respect it, to salute it, to pledge to it, to keep it from touching the ground. To keep it safely away from flame.
But it doesn't work that way with me. Never has. Maybe it was growing up in the 1960s, but the pledge of allegiance always seemed wrong to me, under or above God. I won't say it. I can't say I never have said it, but I know it was in that long ago decade that I stopped mouthing those words in school. I won't rise for that awkward anthem. I won't hold my hand above my heart for it. I suppose I'm lucky I'm not a sports fan.
I quoted my grandmother here a couple days ago about the intense patriotism of her grandfather, a Union Army veteran, and God bless him; he was devoted to the better of two flags. But forgive me, I can't follow in that tradition.
I don't take comfort in seeing it on every truck and bus and subway train. I don't feel kinship with someone wearing it on their lapel or their hat or their jacket. I don't feel my testicles expanding and my cock hardening when I see it paired with a white-headed bird and some defiant slogan like "these colors don't run" or "never forgive or forget." Speaking of never forgetting, do you know what's been done in the name of that flag?
The red-white-and-blue represents to me the absolute worst of America: its entitled arrogance, its narcissistic cluelessness, its bull-in-a-china-shop way of stomping about the world. It's a substitute for substance, an end to the conversation. I remember that horrible amazing picture from the 1970s of a white racist in Boston wielding a flag like a weapon as he attacks a black-skinned Haitian immigrant. Go ahead, Google "American flag as a weapon" and it comes right up. 5 seconds of typing and an icon appears.
See? Emotion on a stick. I guess it brings up rage in me. Where others see promise and hope in it, I see despair and deception. With liberty and justice for all, really? Is that what it has fluttered over all these years?
Oh I know America can be better than that. I'm grateful for my constitutional rights. I'm grateful for a march of progress. And I'm grateful it's not the stars-and-bars floating overhead: now there is a repulsive flag that should be condemned to fire.
In truth some flags don't bring out this reaction in me. Like red ones. I would stand and sing for James O'Connell's "The Red Flag": The workers flag is deepest red/It shrouded oft our martyred dead." Even with the mockery that Russia and China made of the crimson banner, it still has the power to make my own spirit rise. Against the odds the red flag does mean promise and hope to me. Go figure.
But The Flag? The stars and stripes? As Grace Slick of the Jefferson Airplane said long ago, "Point that thing somewhere else."