On Patriotism and Nationalism

Recently, while writing a piece about the military parade that took place during our Independence Day, I was able to distinguish that there’s a radically different tone when you write about having love for your country, as many Mexican outlets do, instead of fearing an outsider threat to your culture, as is the trend in American media.

As an outsider looking in, I am astonished by the sheer fear mongering that dominates the discourse in American news. Even liberal outlets have a way of taking a discreet toxic pride in what the United States’ culture represents. “What example are we giving to the rest of the world?” is a phrase that I’ve seen every now and again. And to that, many of us outsiders ask “Who says that you have to be an example for anyone?” I don’t mean this as an attack or a critique, but I do want to look deeper into the perception of one’s country and elaborate on the concepts of nationalism and patriotism.

I know that loving your country is a touchy subject lately. It’s easy for people in positions of power to appeal to personal insecurities about one’s country: “Mine is better, more ethical, has better standards of living, than any other country in the world”  or “we have to protect what’s ours from outside threats or be wary of a transformation taking place.” Why? Because at the bottom of our hearts, we all love the place where we were born in. It tells us about who we are, where we come from, the people that helped raise us live there, it’s where we grew up, where some of our fondest memories are. It’s a place that makes us feel safe and secure. That pride we feel, those feelings of love and affection for the place we come from? That’s patriotism. And some people want to take advantage of that sentiment.

Our nationality is, for better or for worse, a defining aspect of our personality, opportunities, environment, and development. Through our culture, we learn to perceive life and get to know ourselves better. It gives us a sense of belonging, of community, that helps us feel at home.

So, it’s no wonder why we’re told that our country, our culture, our home, is under attack. That we must be protective of what makes it great and unique. And although I do believe that it’s very important to preserve heritage and traditions, I think that sometimes that perspective can be twisted into a dark reflection of patriotism: nationalism.

I have noticed that these two terms are thrown around interchangeably, however, I believe it is our responsibility as writers to make the clear distinction between the concepts, and use language as a way to avoid harmful confusion. We need to know how to make our message be heard and fight misinformation. Through our voices and words, we aim to stop manipulation and lies that sway public opinion towards a place of hate and xenophobia.

We all know what nationalism looks like. The examples are almost cliché: Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, and examples tied to race, like White Nationalism. These are all examples of people using generalization in order classify an entire group of people, and justify fear and hate towards them. As a Mexican, I know what it’s like to be judged by generalizations. Even in my own country, we have people constantly questioning the morality of the way of life of the average Mexican, and how outside influence is shaping our culture.

But lately I’ve been able to observe something that we have, and that I would like to share with anyone who would listen, and that is that you can be proud of your country without having to fear others. That the relationships between people of different nationalities brings tolerance and understanding, and makes wherever you come from a more diverse and accepting place.

Patriotism is constructive, nationalism is destructive. Patriotism is being able to critique how things are done in your country, while nationalism tells you that yours is the only correct way to do things. Patriotism allows you to share everything that you love about your culture, while nationalism diminishes everyone else’s.

As a kid I wasn’t much of a patriot, but through different experiences in life (particularly traveling both inside and outside of Mexico), I have learned to love my country and its people, and would love nothing more than to share that appreciation with people from all around the world and, of course, traveling to other countries and learning what makes each of them great and unique.

You learn to be a patriot, and respect every other culture, through the eyes of others.

Written by: Ivan Sandoval

Iván Sandoval is a Mexican emerging writer. He has written short fiction and non-fiction stories, as well as the scripts for two virtual reality experiences and a short film that he also directed. He has a deep love and appreciation for art, history, travel, food, diversity, and pop culture. His favorite genres are horror and adventure, and he has a weakness for fantasy and superhero stories, as well as an appreciation for the analysis and interpretation of film and text in essay form.

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