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."


  1. i think that the red flag and the US flag have seen equal, if different, abuse in their time.

    i agree with much of what you have to say, but i think it's important to remember, as i often say, that the flag didn't do any of those things. the flag didn't harm that poor haitian man. some asshole did. the flag has been used to symbolize abuse and atrocity, but that was never what it was meant for. i think, for better or worse, we as americans are stuck with that flag for a long time. when people like you or i give up on the flag, i think it puts more power into the hands of tobaccy-chewin, gun-firin rednecks that have no knowledge of what they are waving on their stick. so let's fight that ignorance.

    i, for one, will loudly speak up whenever that shit happens. the flag is as much mine as anyone else's, and i will not have it used for hate, violence, or intolerance. so when some hillbilly at the movie theater wearing a flag shirt starts screaming at the black custodian for being lazy, for example, i tell him to shut the fuck up. that actually happened. i was proud.

    here's a fun cartoon for you:

    also, when puerto rico becomes a state, how much outrageous hypocrisy do you think there will be to keep that 51st star off the flag from the right?

  2. i think it's important to remember, as i often say, that the flag didn't do any of those things. the flag didn't harm that poor haitian man. some asshole did.

    You are of course correct about that! A good point that you have made before. And should make again.

    I love the cartoon. Thanks for that!

  3. I grew up in the '60's but I grew up with the legacy of a father who served in The Marines in World War II. I'll admit to a certain emotional attachment to the flag. I'm not entirely comfortable with it, but it's there. I get pissed off when right wingers try to claim the flag as their own. For good or ill this country made me and I will not be excluded from it.
    I stood for the pledge of allegiance for the first time since high school recently. The N. Bay Labor Council stands and says the pledge at the beginning of meetings. No one seemed very excited one way or the other. We all stood up and mumbled the words and then sat back down. It was weird.
    As to anthems. The only one that stirs me is "Class War" by the SF punk band The Dils. A somewhat cleaned up version, less sloppily performed, was later released by the Canadian band DOA. I'm also partial to a tune called "International Flag Burning Day" by the New Orleans band The Troublemakers. They recommend burning flags in general although it is probably best to start the conflagration with the local pennant. I'll try and send you a copy some time soon. It's more that a little pedantic, sort of an anarchist anthem written for sesame street, but you gotta love it.

  4. I'd love to hear that, Jon.

    I love the idea of "This Land Is Your Land" being the national anthem, which I guess was sort of Guthrie's intent, right?

    Do you know the song Finlandia? The UCC church I went to briefly a few years ago sang a wonderful version of it:

    This is my song, oh God of all the nations,
    a song of peace for lands afar and mine.
    This is my home, the country where my heart is;
    here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine;
    but other hearts in other lands are beating
    with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine

    My country's skies are bluer than the ocean,
    and sunlight beams on clover leaf and pine.
    But other lands have sunlight too and clover,
    and skies are everywhere as blue as mine.
    This is my song, oh God of all the nations;
    a song of peace for their land and for mine.

    Hmmm...I should make a blogpost of THAT.

  5. I'll have to admit, "Class War" wouldn't sound good at the beginning of a ball game. I like that "Finlandia". The Troublemakers story has an incredibly sad ending. One of those tragedies that makes no sense whatsoever and sends you to bed hating life. OK, all this and links in a personal email.

  6. For what its worth, he wasn't Haitian
    or an immigrant. Here's a description of the incident & some context:

  7. Thanks for that SWboy, a riveting account...scanned it quickly on my way out the door. I'll reread when I get home.

    regards to you.