The Valadez View

What it means to be a patriot

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We were a couple months into a global pandemic when George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis. His death sparked uproars globally because people finally saw the pattern of systemic racism in this country and decided to do something about it.
These people fighting for equality and equity in this country are the true patriots of today. Patriotism does not come from blindly following national leaders and having an elitist mindset. Instead, it comes from loving this country so much that people desire change for the better.
Somewhere along the way, being a patriot changed from adoring and critiquing this country to condemning anyone who critiques leadership or unjust laws. And I don’t think the latter is what we want.
In school, I don’t become a better student until I learn from my mistakes and practice. In The Journal, I don’t become a better leader until I evaluate what went well and what went awry in issues past.
And although I’m just a 17-year-old girl, I think this mindset is applicable to most any situation, especially when it comes to improving this country. We have to constantly observe and re-evaluate our history, our current approaches and what we are doing for future generations, which makes complete sense.
But for some reason, this simple act of being critical is seen as unpatriotic. So much so that the sitting president claims that teaching our real, radical history is “ideological poison.” But how can this be true? Has he ever learned about the Holocaust?
The Holocaust is so heavily taught and condemned in Germany so that history will never repeat itself. And I just don’t understand why this isn’t the common practice in our country too, because there is truly nothing wrong with realizing our extremely racist, sexist and xenophobic past if it can help us in any way in the future.
Martin Luther King Jr. was seen as an extremist of his time because he did just that, realized his country’s racist history and fought tirelessly to end it. He was assassinated because he was a true patriot, and no one had the willpower to go against leadership like he did. He was brave, and the sad truth is that patriots like him are still fighting to finish his work.
The fact of the matter is that I don’t want my peers to think that criticizing America for its systemic racism isn’t patriotic. I don’t want my peers to think that fighting for civil rights in this country is un-American when the most American thing we can do is be critical of our leaders and laws and push for change.
At the end of the day, we were all lucky enough to be born in the place and time of the American dream (at least when we aren’t the laughing stock of the world). But this ideal that we all love and want in our lives is truly unattainable if we can’t all take a step back and improve ourselves to better this country.
It is OK to love America. But it is not OK to act as though we are untouchable and perfect. We’re not. At the end of the day, I love this country. I am forever grateful that I was born here, that I have the opportunity to further my education and do most anything I could dream of as a hispanic, teenage girl. But I love it so much that I want it to be better.
I want to be proud of America just as much as the next person, but if I’m not constantly fighting for what is right, then what’s the point? Looking out for this country and its people is the most American thing any of us can do.