Independence, Rodeo and Our Unalienable Rights
Last week it was America's birthday and what better place for us to spend it in than Cody Wyoming. We headed to the Cody Stampede Rodeo on July 4th and had the pleasure of saying "This is not our first rodeo" for real - as we had already been to a tiny one in Dubois the previous week. This event was on a much bigger scale and was a lot of fun.
Patriotism is an interesting thing. As a Brit who is now an American citizen I reflected upon how differently Americans express their patriotism than in my native country. Maybe because of our colonial past or just our uptight nature, in Britain our patriotism is muted and saved for a royal wedding or maybe to support Andy Murray at Wimbledon. The huge flags, God Bless our Country and "U.S.A, U.S.A." style chants would just cause most Brits to curl-up with embarrassment - that's just not our way. Supporting a football (aka soccer) team of course is different - we are never embarrassed by screaming hysteria then.
Having spent the majority of my adult life in the US I fully believe in the founding principles of our country and I am happy to sing the national anthem and be a proud citizen. But my Britishness still leaves me a little overwhelmed by, and uncomfortable with, excessive patriotism. So at the rodeo after the first 10 minutes of giant flag waving, USA chanting and prayer, I was able to relax and enjoy the broncs, barrel racing and bull-riding. I even found myself offering my expert opinion on the quality of the competitors. This was not my first rodeo after all!
We were met with another fascinating aspect of American history when we visited Heart Mountain Interpretive Center. The interpretive center is on the site of a "camp" that held over 14,000 people of Japanese ancestry between 1942 and 1945. While I had some knowledge of how Japanese Americans were treated during World War II, I didn't know the details. Over 120,000 people of Japanese descent were confined in the west during this time and two thirds of them were US citizens. They lost their homes, their life savings and most importantly they lost one of their supposedly unalienable rights as citizens, their liberty. After our visit to Pearl Harbor last December this was a fascinating counterpoint to the lessons we learned there.
The US government apologized for this period of history back in 1988, and the marker at this historic landmark pulls no punches in condemning this period of our recent past. "Between 1942 and 1945, guard towers and barbed wire fences on this site confined a community of nearly 11,000 forcibly uprooted people of Japanese ancestry, most of whom were American citizens. All were victims of racial prejudice, wartime hysteria, and failed political leadership."
All countries (especially my native Britain) have dark periods in their past. Acknowledging and commemorating them so we can learn from our history and not repeat our mistakes is much more likely to make me proud to be an American citizen than any giant flag or firework display.