Learning to be an American

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 12, 2004

Emotions always run high when rival sports teams go head-to-head, and this game was no different.

Mexico was taking on the United States in the Gold Cup.

Over 90,000 fans were packed in the stadium immersed in a field of red, white, and green Mexican flags.

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When the Star Spangled Banner began playing on the loudspeakers, loud boos rose up from the crowds.

U.S. players entering the field were pelted with debris and cups of water and beer.

As a couple of U.S. fans attempted to raise the American flag, the debris began to rain on them.

It was February of 1998, and the place was not Mexico City, but Los Angeles, California.

&uot;Something’s wrong when I can’t even raise an American flag in my own country,&uot; a U.S. fan commented to a Los Angeles Times reporter. &uot;Playing in Los Angeles is not a home game for the United States,&uot; the reporter agreed.

It seems that such a thing could never happen in America.

It is just against our code and creed.

But, the truth of the matter is that being an American is not dictated by a piece of paper, it is not paying taxes, and it is not what family you were born into. There is no genetic code to being American and it is not our age, our gender, our country, our political affiliation, or even our country of origin that makes us Americans.

We are not economically, demographically, historically, or even culturally Americans.

So how are we Americans? We learn it. Being an American is an active social and civic process – and one that today in our nation is in jeopardy.

To learn to be an American we study the founding fathers to understand the roots of our nation.

We read the Constitution to learn what our rights are and how we can protect them.

We engage in social and civic groups that strengthen our communities and families. We say the Pledge of Allegiance, we sing the Anthem, we learn to speak English if we were not brought up speaking it, and we respect our flag.

Some people call this propaganda – I call it history and tradition.

Day by day, what it means to be an American is being pushed out of our lives. Many of our children no longer start their day with the Pledge of Allegiance.

In some schools studying the founding fathers is considered too controversial.

In June of 2002, two judges in San Francisco decided that the words &uot;Under God&uot; in the Pledge violated the Constitution.

The Supreme Court has held that Congress cannot pass legislation to protect the American flag.

There are even movements all across the country to remove the playing of the National Anthem at sporting events.

Our nation and our national identity mean too much to be disregarded and carelessly rewritten.

It is time to return to the American history and traditions that have made us strong.

We need to teach English to every American citizen.

As parents, we need talk about America’s history, retell the stories of our forefathers’ sacrifices, and take our children to visit historical sites.

And as citizens, we need to respect our anthem, our pledge, and our flag.

By upholding and passing down our civic history and traditions we preserve our core belief that United States citizenship is not a right, but an honor.

And this honor transcends race, religion, privilege, or politics, and it is one that ultimately will continue to determine the character and the course of our nation.

J. Randy Forbes of Chesapeake, represents the 4th District of Virginia (which includes Suffolk) in the United States House of Representatives.