Patriotic Pressure

Students, teacher discuss meaning, traditions of patriotism

Many Hoosiers will tell you Indiana is a patriotic state— at least in comparison to those of the East and West coasts. We’re the only state with a city named Patriot, after all, and Indianapolis devotes more acreage than any other U.S. city to honoring the fallen. However, when measured along the criteria of military and civic engagement, we fall short. Indiana was ranked a shocking 44th most patriotic in a 2022 study that cited metrics like voter participation, trial- and grand- jury participation, civil volunteerism, completion of the U.S. history education requirement, military enlistment (broken down into subsets), and more. 

For John Carter, U.S. history and AP Comparative Government and Politics teacher, the amount of students saying the Pledge of Allegiance has, in his own words, “decreased dramatically” within the last three or four years, a change which he attributes at least partially to cell phone culture and the pandemic. However, he said this might not directly correlate with patriotism in all demographics. 

“Ironically, I’ve probably seen a few more international students saying the Pledge or at least standing for it than even American students,” he said. 

Although 13.6% of the U.S. population is foreign born, according to the most recent data from the Migration Policy Institute, only 5.6% of Hoosiers are. The gap only widens for second generation immigrants, with 25.9% of the U.S. population under 18 having one or more foreign-born parents and only 11.7% of Hoosiers under 18 having one or more foreign-born parents. 

Sophomore Vincent Gao, who immigrated to the U.S. as a young child, said he identifies as patriotic.

“To me, patriotism means being devoted or showing love to one’s country. I would describe myself as patriotic as I love, care, and am devoted to my country. I enjoyed the times and memories I’ve had throughout the years as they brought many joys to my life.” he said. 

Carter said nationalism is typically stronger at private schools and small, rural schools, citing his own experiences at a rural elementary school that released red, white and blue balloons on Memorial Day and played patriotic songs. 

“Carmel, (for) a large school, actually has a lot of nationalistic practices, surprisingly. It tends to be larger, urban schools that I would assume have less,” he said. “A lot of schools around the nation don’t say the Pledge of Allegiance anymore and there’s even some schools that have quit playing the national anthem at sporting events, which is something we still do at all our events.”

Senior Celia Watson, who identifies as an expat having lived outside of the U.S. for most of her life, said that such practices can be detrimental for immigrants and expats. 

“Due to the pressures that specifically American society puts on those who live in the country, there is a certain ideal that the general public needs everyone to adhere to which isn’t achievable for most people, especially immigrants or expats,” she said. “I think one of the most obvious examples is celebration of non-traditional holidays that aren’t necessarily American – a lot of people see this as something strange or not normal when it should be embraced for as many cultures as possible.”

Watson said she has struggled with not feeling “American” enough as a result. 

“I used to struggle with it a lot more when I was younger, but as I’ve matured, I found ways to make sure that I’m able to adhere to the kind of person I want to be regardless of what other people expect me to be. That’s not to say that it wasn’t a huge issue – it has definitely created the person I am for better and for worse.” she said. 

Unlike Watson, Gao said he has not faced many of the struggles that often affect immigrants and expats.

“Throughout my 10 years in the U.S. I have never experienced discrimination from friends, classmates, peers, or strangers. I feel no pressure to express the norms of American culture as I don’t focus on this point and live every day normally,” he said. “I feel connected to the culture, like I myself am American. I consider myself an American having spent the majority of my life living here has greatly impacted and changed my life to shape who I am today.”

Carter said he agreed/disagreed, stating while the word “patriotic” is politicized, actual patriotic sentiment and pride for the country is still strong. 

“I think politics has killed the idea of patriotism. It’s been turned to more right-wing rhetoric. So, I think a lot of people don’t identify as patriotic anymore even though they still have a strong affinity for the United States or to be an American citizen,” he said. “With the recent rise in extreme populism on both the left and right, there’s a lot of tension around the idea of American nationalism, particularly using terms like patriotism.”

Watson agreed with Carter’s assessment and stated that she would not describe herself as patriotic. 

“(Patriotism) often gets a negative connotation in the media, and for good reason. To me, in the best case scenario, it describes someone who is willing to put in the work to make their country something that they are proud of, and in its worst case scenario, it describes someone who is so blinded by an imperfect reality that they can’t see the system with any flaws, which I think is negative,” she said. “I would not (describe myself as patriotic), mainly because I think that leads to an association of an overly American stereotype that I don’t consider myself a part of. I also think that if someone describes themselves as that it often is for more selfish reasons just due to the connotation of the word in today’s status quo.”

Referencing his experiences working with refugee placement groups in Lexington, Kentucky, Carter said one’s status as an immigrant, and even language barriers, aren’t indicative that a person will be less patriotic. He said applying patriotism to a more global context is necessary to understand the complex relationships students have with their cultural identities. 

“I travel quite a bit, and when I hear the national anthem or if I’m at a national celebration, I try to show respect for it even though it’s not my nationality or my country. I may not not necessarily participate but I at least try to be respectful. And I think most students are (respectful),” he said. “We do say the Pledge everyday with a lot of students who don’t have American citizenship.”

According to Gao, coming from an immigrant background can lead to many differences in nearly all aspects of one’s life.   

“Something that would differ from someone who was born here would be cultural differences, family customs, manners, greetings, and the people you surround yourself with which may depend on race, gender, culture, religion, etc.” he said. 

Discussing his background growing up in an American military family, Carter said traditionally patriotic actions can be perceived very differently by first generation and second generation immigrants. 

“Someone in every generation of my family has served in a war for the United States. From that lineage, I was brought up with a strong patriotism. I remember watching football games on TV, or baseball games, and my grandpa making me stand for the national anthem or the Pledge,” he said. “For people who have been shunned or disserviced by the system, or even faced prejudice from the system, I think it would be a very different reaction.”

Gao said he takes steps to balance both aspects of his identity, being an immigrant and being American. 

“I’d say trying to balance the two sides may be challenging for others, but I myself have balanced by expressing my actions both as an immigrant and an American to show my true emotions and feelings towards my identity and the importance it reflects on my life.” he said. 

For Watson, living abroad has provided a unique perspective that is not easily attainable otherwise. 

“I think it has changed my experiences mainly in the sense that being an immigrant or an expat creates a different mindset than you can get in any other way. I think it creates a global aspect to your life that makes one more humble and willing to help others, because it creates an easier way to visualize people different from yourself.”