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“But are you proud to be an American?,” she smirked, a fellow expatriate in a foreign land. It was July 4th, and I was far from home. While I consider myself a true citizen of the world, there’s no denying there’s a place that made me.

I have spent the past five Fourth of Julys abroad. The majority of the people I have met in my years of travel understand that like most, I have a loving, loyal, and complicated relationship with my country. To others, I find myself in the uncomfortable position of having to defend a place I’m simultaneously deeply critical of and forever indebted and tied to, like a beloved family member that struggles to get it together. Occasionally, there are even a few who are truly unpleasant, who want me to apologize for my passport, who want me to pay for the politics they don’t agree with. Every so often I encounter that same attitude from fellow US citizens who don’t offer their home country the same sympathies they offer those they travel to.

American Flag in Martha's Vineyard

“But are you proud to be an American?” I knew exactly what that snarky question implied.

Am I proud that we’ve allowed a group of minority extremists to so frequently poison the country’s politics with homophobia, xenophobia, misogyny and garden variety hate? Am I proud of the consumerism that appears to be the national religion? Am I proud of our history as one of the planet’s most prolific bullies? Am I proud that we are the only developed nation in the world without universal healthcare or a single legally required paid vacation day? Am I proud of our frothing-at-the-mouth gun obsession? Of our media’s portrayal of the rest of the world as outsiders to be feared? No. I am not. And I vote, I write (okay, I email) my representatives and I donate to the politicians and charities I believe will elevate us beyond that.

It’s true — we’ve got issues. Yet the stereotypes that I so often encounter around the world simply don’t represent the United States I love. This year, on a trip to New York, I wiped away tears as I reread the inscription that sits at the base of the Statue of Liberty, the icon that welcomed so many generations of immigrants to their new homeland.

Give me your tired,
Your poor,
Your huddled masses,
Yearning to breathe free;
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless,
Tempest-tossed to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

American Flag at Pearl Harbor

So am I proud to be an American? Hell yes. I’m proud of the America where we root for the underdog, where we love a comeback story, where we embrace the bizarre, where ambition runs as thick as blood. The America where we tell each other — loudly — how passionately we believe in our causes, diverse as they may be. Where we fiercely protect the right of our opponents to freely speak their minds. The America where it’s more about what you’ve done than where you come from. Where we never lose the opportunity to grow and reinvent ourselves. Where we embrace change and learn from our mistakes. Where we innovate and create. Where we smile at strangers and ask each other how we’re doin’. The America where we pause to dust each other off after great tragedy. This is the America I love.

Because no matter how long I’m gone, no matter how many faults I find, something inside me lights up when I shuffle through a US airport, and after a flurry of lines and passport checks and stoic immigration officers, I hear those magical words — “Welcome home.”

American Flag in Times Square

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80 Comments...
  • Bernard
    July 4 2014

    More than anything, I really admire your writing. You’ve nailed down and sorted through the jumbled mess of thoughts I’ve had swirling in my head for so many years regarding this topic.

    • Alex
      July 6 2014

      Thanks Bernard. I appreciate you reading!

  • Jason
    July 4 2014

    I identified with and was moved by this post to the extent that I currently have chills, and can’t wait to share this.

    Have I thrown a few beers back tonight? Yes. But I feel like you put into words more or less how I have felt for 7 of the last 8 Fourths (although I must admit that I found it easier to bow to pressure and hate on my home country those first couple of years and feel noticeably more proud to be American with each passing year).

    Happy Fourth to you, and thanks for posting this!!

    • Alex
      July 6 2014

      Thank you Jason, that means a lot to me! I feel the same, the more I travel both domestically and abroad, the happier I am to carry the US passport.

  • Emily
    July 4 2014

    Coming from Canada, I would say that the US gets more of a bad rap than it deserves. Whenever I am in the States I feel that people are just immensely friendly, moreso than some folk in Canada. We were recently in Boston and we had the BEST customer service (granted we’d just spent 6 months in South America where it’s not anywhere like North America) and just friendly people coming up to us. We’ve experienced that in different spots all over the States and so I am always looking forward to our next dip into the US ๐Ÿ™‚
    Emily recently posted..Wicked Ahsome Boston

    • Alex
      July 6 2014

      Ah yes, customer service in the States is pretty special! I remember the first time I went to the UK I was so paranoid about all the waitresses hating me, ha! Now I know that it’s just the way things are, but it really is a departure from what was my normal at the time.

  • Katie
    July 4 2014

    Alex, lovely post!! Couldn’t have said any of it better, we have nearly the same exact sentiments towards our home country… ๐Ÿ™‚
    Katie recently posted..The quiet beach village of Pemuteran, Bali

    • Alex
      July 6 2014

      Thank you Katie! I really am moved by how well received this post has been.

  • Michelle
    July 4 2014

    Nice writing. The United States is not perfect (or near perfect) but I feel the urge to “drop-kick” those smirky types when I run across them.

    Proud American (but don’t need the need to wave the flag.)

    • Alex
      July 6 2014

      It’s just not a nice attitude to have, and I try to remember how it feels to be on the receiving end when I’m about to rush to judgement.

  • Nadia
    July 4 2014

    I commend your brave and thoughtful words. I just had the worst travel experience of my life with an american living up to every terrible stereotype imaginable. It was both frightening and embarrassing and I found myself apologizing for someone I had never met. My identity as an american is often challenged and I want to identify with all of the good parts and I am thankful for your words that so clearly and poetically capture that sentiment.

    • Alex
      July 6 2014

      Thanks Nadia. That sounds like a true travel horror story… I’ve definitely encountered those cringe-worthy types of all nationalities but it is funny how we find the need to apologize for them when they share our passport! I look forward to hearing the details on that story someday…

  • I mean those first couple paragraphs were how I feel but could never have worded it so well- great job getting that across because I know so many others who can relate to that. Happy 4th!
    Rachel of Hippie in Heels recently posted..This is India! (five)

    • Alex
      July 6 2014

      Thank you so much Rachel — hope you got to celebrate in Goa!

  • Ashley
    July 4 2014

    Beautifully written post! Happy 4th from Canada
    Ashley recently posted..A Two Week Itinerary of Western Australia

    • Alex
      July 6 2014

      Thank you Ashley! Much appreciated ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Becky L.
    July 4 2014

    Eloquently put, Alex. Thank you for this post!

    • Alex
      July 6 2014

      Thank you for reading Becky! <3

  • Andi
    July 4 2014

    Love love love this post! Just shared it via Facebook. It’s as if I had written it myself, expect you wrote much more poignantly than I ever could!!! Happy 4th!
    Andi recently posted..Turks And Caicos: Day 1-3

    • Alex
      July 6 2014

      Thank you so much for sharing, Andi! That means a lot to me. I love how we’ve always bonded over policy and politics ๐Ÿ™‚ Happy 4th indeed!

  • Nailed it, Alex. Excellent piece. I will keep this in mind when my usual indignant response to “so you’re American?” flies out of my mouth (an unnecessarily haughty and loud “NO!”). Us northern neighbors need a reminder from time to time that not all Americans are the unfortunate minorities you mention. Thank you.
    Rika | Cubicle Throwdown recently posted..5 Things I Love About Roatan

    • Alex
      July 6 2014

      Aw, I appreciate that Rika. For some reason this reminds me of a Canadian dive instructor I worked with who always referred to the US as “Southern Canada.” As in “You’re from Albany? Where is that again? Ah yes, Southern Canada.” Cracked me up every time.

  • Shaun
    July 4 2014

    Props Alex, not an easy topic to tackle.

    While pride is mostly used to describe how we feel about our citizenship I go with what the late and very great George Carlin said:

    โ€œPride should be reserved for something you achieve or obtain on your own, not something that happens by accident of birth. Being Irish isn’t a skill… it’s a F-WORD genetic accident. You wouldn’t say I’m proud to be 5’11”; I’m proud to have a pre-disposition for colon cancer.โ€

    Hope it doesn’t come across as harsh (he was a comedian after all) but with this in mind I usually tend to call myself a very happy Canadian.
    Shaun recently posted..Istanbulโ€™s Not So Grand Bazaar

    • Alex
      July 6 2014

      Interesting take and you really made me think! However, there are certain times when I’ve felt bursting pride in my country, for example when an election went my way in which I voted and donated to the campaign. Perhaps because that had an action tied to it, I felt real raw pride!

      Also, what about being proud of friends/family who accomplish great things? I can’t claim any credit for my best friend getting into PA school, but man I feel proud! Maybe there are two different kinds? Really intriguing comment!

      • Shaun
        July 7 2014

        I think what you said still fits the bill. You donated, voted and won. Your role helped achive a common goal in the democratic process.

        This is such a good point. I think being prideful of an accomplishment that someone close to you achived is still valid because of the emotional attachment you share. We wouldn’t be human if we couldn’t do that.
        Shaun recently posted..Istanbulโ€™s Not So Grand Bazaar

  • Camila
    July 4 2014

    Hi alex, i have stumbled upon your blog a few weeks ago when I was searching for diving tips, and I imediately fell in love with your writing and passion for travelling. Its always relieving to see that there are individuals like you who are different from the stereotype a lot of people have about north americans, and your post is really good at proving it.

    • Alex
      July 6 2014

      Wow, thank you for that lovely compliment, Camila. I’m always so happy to hear from the people who enjoy this blog! Thank you so much for coming along for the ride ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Chris
    July 4 2014

    No country is perfect, but I’m not going to criticise the US today, on the day of its 238th birthday!

    In the 1 week that I have spent in this country thus far, here are a couple positives I’ve noted that cause it to differ from my home (which I both love, and at times loathe)

    * Manners – The majority of people I’ve met in the US have been incredibly polite, always quick with a ‘please’ a ‘thankyou’ or just an ‘hello’

    * Pride – This is something that can sometimes be misrepresented, but the sight of the national flag in so many locations always reminds you of where you are (of particular importance today)!
    Chris recently posted..Welcome to the Golden State!

    • Alex
      July 6 2014

      I do love our propensity for manners! I am always very quick to recognize and appreciate it in other cultures as well. Glad you have highlighted one of our strengths!

  • Stephanie
    July 4 2014

    Fantastic post. You really do capture similar emotions that I feel regarding being an American.
    Stephanie recently posted..Hiking the Inca Trail: Day 1

    • Alex
      July 6 2014

      Thanks Stephanie. I’m so happy to hear that — happy 4th!

  • Rick
    July 4 2014

    YOU and others like you make me proud to be an American.

    We are a work in progress with a long way to go. When bright and lovely young women speak up I feel good. The future in your hands, don’t let go.

    • Alex
      July 6 2014

      Thank you Rick, that’s touching to read! Happy 4th from one flag-waver to another.

  • Sheherazade
    July 4 2014

    Great post Alex!
    I love American too even with all its imperfections. I dont think there is a perfect country out there, but America is the one most picked at.

    • Alex
      July 6 2014

      We are indeed, at least among the backpacker crowd I run with. It can be quite tiring to hear backhanded insults like “You’re not like other Americans!” And I always respond that actually, I like to think my many American family and friends are equally as lovely!

  • Terry and Lynn McCarthy
    July 4 2014

    Alex, excellent writing and you captured the sentiments exactly. It’s always a pleasure to read your blogs, but this one really nails it. We are proud to be Americans, warts and all. Thank you.

    • Alex
      July 6 2014

      Thank you so much, you two! It makes me smile to know you are reading. And thank YOU for making one of my favorite fellow Americans ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Chris Shaw
    July 4 2014

    Dead on target! We’ve all been in those uncomfortable situations when we’ve been abroad, but I’ve never heard the whole situation put so well. Happy 4th, Alex, and thanks for your insightful perspective!

    • Alex
      July 6 2014

      I really appreciate that, Chris! Hopefully this post will give you some ammunition (figuratively, of course!) next time you’re in a sticky situation.

  • And why should you have to apologise for every wrong your country has ever done. No country is perfect and you are actively working to make yours better by the sounds of it. There are so many things I love about the US even though it isn’t perfect – Happy 4th of July ๐Ÿ™‚
    Katie @ The World on my Necklace recently posted..Update and my travel plans for 2014

    • Alex
      July 6 2014

      Happy 4th to you as well Katie! I agree we shouldn’t have to apologize for every wrong, though we should acknowledge the ones we can and do what we can to right them. As the New York State motto says, ever upward!

  • Francesca
    July 5 2014

    I’ve been a serial expat for the last 6 years now, and seeing “welcome home’ at customs always gives me the warm fuzzies. Because yes, lots of issues, and indeed, I think many American expats have complicated relationships with the States.
    But actually, every place has them. And its especially hard to capture a governmental model that pleases everyone with a nation of 300 million. For every misogynistic minority, there’s at least one (i hope more) more forward thinking cause floating around. I’m not ready to move back, but it will be interesting to see how the country shapes itself in the coming years.

    • Alex
      July 6 2014

      Sounds like that “welcome home” gets a lot of us! I agree that one of the biggest issues the US faces is governing a diverse nation of 300 million — you literally will never come close to pleasing even a majority. And yet we keep trying, one of the many things I do love.

  • Janice Stringer
    July 5 2014

    Hi Alex,
    This is really thought provoking. From my english perspective America can come across externally as a Country which gives out a Big I AM, but I have been fortunate to chat with its people, spending four days on a train with a whole bunch and the warm heartedness, free speaking, open minded people I met – who shared their stories, thoughtfulness and care with me and my family showed me there is so much more to the USA. People like yourself also. I know as I travelled I found the Englishwoman in me surfaced and I became fiercely proud of the country I come from – although there are elements of our culture which I really don’t like. I like you will always stand up and be proud of being a Woman born in England and part of a United Kingdom. I’d like you shake the hand of the American Woman you are. Have a great day!
    Janice Stringer recently posted..Would you Like to Encounter a Secret Garden

    • Alex
      July 6 2014

      Thanks Janice! I love hearing stories like that. One of my dear friends married a Brit and hearing his parents reflect on being so warmly welcomed by the Americans they met as they traveled to the wedding had me in tears. Happy days!

  • Margy
    July 5 2014

    Alex, I read this post yesterday and although I liked it better than any you have ever written, I did not reply. It resonated so strongly in me that I kept thinking about it for the last 24 hours, pulled it out of the trash, reread and had to tell you how beautiful it is. It expresses so well exactly how I feel. You have a gift as a writer and are wise beyond your years. Thanks for sharing your gifts.

    • Alex
      July 6 2014

      Thank you Margy, that’s a very touching compliment — the best a writer could receive. Thank you for sharing!

  • Laura
    July 5 2014

    Alex you really are a gifted writer and photographer. You have so much insight at such a young age. I’m so proud of you. Love ya

    • Alex
      July 6 2014

      Love you miss Laura! Happy 4th xo

  • Joella J in Beijing
    July 5 2014

    Well said and well written, Alex. You have every right to be proud of your home country. We all should be proud of where we come from. I feel the same about the UK although I think I love it more when I’m away haha! I’m not American, but my husband is. It makes me so mad when people bitch about America or American people and then say ‘oh but not your husband, he is ok!’ Aghhhh! So rude! I don’t get why people say stuff like this, especially people who love going on holiday to the USA!! Of course America has some problems and of course there are people with all kinds of views there that might differ to others. But it is the same for every country! There are lots of good and bad things in every country. I happen to think there are lots of awesome things and people in the USA and look forward to moving there eventually ๐Ÿ™‚ x
    Joella J in Beijing recently posted..Weโ€™re going to Amdo and Kham: Traditional Tibet

    • Alex
      July 6 2014

      Ugh, that is the worst backhanded compliment and I get it all the time. And you are right, plenty of the people who spew that stuff love to vacation around the states. It so warms my heart though when I hear travelers — the non rude variety — tell me about their favorite places in the US ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Chet
    July 5 2014

    Spot on, Alex!! I just read and love your post. I am also encouraged by the comments to your sentiments. With people like yourself out in the world as ambassadors of our country, maybe, some day, the taint of the ugly American will fade away. Keep doing good things around the world. Proud of YOU.

    • Alex
      July 6 2014

      I love these comments too! And I hope that as we become a more global and mobile society that stigma will fade. (And hopefully Americans will stop sewing Canadian flags into their backpacks somewhere along the way…)

  • Miquel
    July 6 2014

    Fantastic Post. Talented Writer. Thanks for putting into words what so many of us know to be true.
    Miquel recently posted..Sunset in San Francisco

    • Alex
      July 6 2014

      Thanks Miquel! Happy 4th x

  • Anna Lamma
    July 6 2014

    That was very wonderfully put. I’ve noticed a trail of US travel bloggers releasing posts about PRIDE around this time. It’s nice to see you’re part of the people confident enough to do it.
    Anna Lamma recently posted..Backpacking USA #2 – Philadelphia: Prison, Patriotism and Pilgrims

    • Alex
      July 6 2014

      I just read a great one on Twenty Something Travel as well. She nailed it! I agree it’s not the trendy sentiment but to me it is the true one.

  • I have the same feelings about the U.S. Regardless of all the problems, I love it more than any other place. I love that “Welcome Home” and so many other things that categorize every time I’m here.

    Very beautifully said!
    Jessica of Curiosity Travels recently posted..A New Chapter

    • Alex
      July 6 2014

      Thanks Jessica! I’m touched by how many can relate to this post. I nervously revised it a billion times, so it means a lot!

  • MCVK
    July 7 2014

    Although I have dual citizenship, I am unapologetically American. You said something about “our history as one of the planet’s most prolific bullies”: we are the bullies who, along with our Allies, saved the Western World from becoming members of the Third Reich. A lot of your young men – and a few young women – died saving several European countries. We also stopped the Japanese in their quest for world domination. We were the first country to write a Declaration of Independence and have a written Constitution to frame our government and enforce the rights of all. Of course we’ve made mistakes – hasn’t every country? – but we don’t have laws restricting our citizens from wearing their traditional garb, such as burkas and turbans, the way France does. We don’t maim thieves and we don’t kill women who were raped because they shame us. It is unfortunate that we encounter bigotry when we travel; I think those foreign travelers would do well to read this quote from Mark Twain:

    Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime. ~ Mark Twain

    • Alex
      July 8 2014

      My mom had a lot of the same reactions you did when she proofread this for me; she wanted to point out all the things other countries do wrong to show what we do right. And I do agree with you, those things are true. But I guess just in principle I don’t like the concept of saying, well, so and so did this bad thing so it’s okay that we did that bad thing. And I know we’ve done a lot of good but I stand behind my bully statement — learning about the US’s interference in Central American politics basically to benefit banana magnates has made my blood boil! Yet, all that said, you did pull out one of my favorite quotes ๐Ÿ™‚ Happy 4th!

      • MCVK
        July 22 2014

        I’ve been traveling too – Boston! Cape Cod! – and now have 11 of your posts to catch up on. My father worked for Chiquita Bananas for 40 years. Yes, they interfered with politics in Latin America. They also had a lot of their plantations “nationalized” after revolutions, losing everything. They built towns, roads, hospitals, schools – a whole infrastructure – wherever they grew bananas. And they never interfered in other countries without the blessing of the U.S. gov’t in charge at the time. The same could be said for oil companies in Venezuela years ago (also nationalized) or copper mines in Chile (ditto). There are many sides to every story. And when is Great Britain going to return the “Elgin Marbles” to Greece, where they were stolen from?

        • Alex
          July 23 2014

          As for the banana companies, that’s my whole point — the US government supported them in practically colonizing Latin America! It horrifies me to look back on that part of history. I don’t really think the infrastructure they built, much of which they left in ruin, even comes close to making up for their exploitation. And like I wrote, I don’t like pointing to what other countries have done wrong as a way to justify what we’ve also erred in. But that’s just my take. Hope you’ve been enjoying your travels ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Maddy
    July 7 2014

    Oh this just almost made me tear up! So well done Alex, a far greater Fourth of July post than I could have written (though I shall belatedly try this week!) – keep it up!
    Maddy recently posted..Wearables | Copa, Copacabana

    • Alex
      July 8 2014

      It’s a tough one to tackle! This required 10x my usual number of rewrites ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Camels & Chocolate
    July 7 2014

    Well put, sista!
    Camels & Chocolate recently posted..Paddling Montana’s Clearwater River Canoe Trail

    • Alex
      July 8 2014

      [Insert flag and heart emojis here.]

  • Lena
    July 8 2014

    Alex, I absolutely love this. As an expat it took me some time to fall in love with this country. But today, I can honestly say I am very proud to have US citizenship – and if I can point one thing I admire the most about the US – nobody has ever judged me. That is one great quality. Like you said: The America where itโ€™s more about what youโ€™ve done than where you come from. Thank you!

    • Alex
      July 8 2014

      It’s interesting, isn’t it… I would say being a proud US citizen didn’t come naturally for me, it was something I had to grow into. Seems like I’m not alone in that!

  • Matt
    July 8 2014

    Great post – I can certainly relate – I am a recent college graduate that can’t wait to leave the US and begin traveling the world as I save up towards doing just that. There is a lot that we do well, and a whole hell of a lot that we do awfully. I think traveling is the best way to become mindful of this and to garner a full perspective of the full spectrum. You articulate these points very well, great post again. Cheers fellow ‘Merican!

    • Alex
      July 9 2014

      That is a lovely point, and I agree. Traveling outside the US is really what made me come to appreciate both what I think we do very well and what we fail at spectacularly. Perspective is the greatest gift travel gives!

  • Kimberly Taylor
    July 13 2014

    I absolutely love this!

    • Alex
      July 15 2014

      Thanks Kimberly ๐Ÿ™‚

  • SVV
    July 13 2014

    #agreed

  • Jackson
    May 15 2016

    Love this post, sums up the stereotypical responses well!

    • Alex
      May 20 2016

      Thanks Jackson! Almost time for another patriotic post…

  • Emily
    November 9 2016

    I really agree with this post, and as usual, your writing is lovely and moving, Alex! But today, especially, these feelings are very difficult….

    would love to hear your thoughts!

    • Alex
      November 12 2016

      Hey Emily, I’ll actually have a post on my thoughts on the recent election coming up this week. Stay tuned… and stay strong.

      • Emily
        November 15 2016

        So looking forward to reading it, Alex!

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