Nation, passion, protection, belief, love, bravery. These are all random words that get lumped together whenever one attempts to explain the sentiments towards either one's country of birth or adopted land. And if at any moment self-doubt seeps in, you could follow some people's advice, reach for the bottle labelled ‘Patriotism’ and read the instructions carefully before gulping down two tablets: ‘For the relief of symptoms of rational criticism (especially against some of the government’s debatable policies), hesitation to sacrifice oneself in the pursuit of unjust and unjustified invasions and alleged feelings of ingratitude. Do not exceed the stated dose, but if you do, don’t worry, you will not die, in fact, your side effects will probably be very welcomed. Important note: Keep within reach and sight of children'.
In 2005 when I obtained my British citizenship, I had a ‘before’ and ‘after’ moment. Until then I was safe in the knowledge that I had adapted fairly well to life in the UK. This was helped mainly by a compact family unit, good command of the English language and a solid upbringing in Cuba. But what did this official document actually mean? Did it grant me permission, too, to be critical of certain policies the Tony Blair’s government had introduced and with which I disagreed strongly? The answer, as I later found out, was not simple.
Since my arrival in Britain I had woken up to the fact that I could not expect the country to get used to my ways, instead I had to get used to the country's ways. And that meant getting involved in its social, economic and political life. Little by little, I began to shake off the mantle of the ‘Johnny-come-lately’ and immersed myself more in the hustle and bustle of London’s urban chaos.
But if truth be told, the concept of patriotism confounded me from the outset. And it still does. For starters, I had just come from a nation where nationalistic euphoria is worn on one’s sleeves as a badge of pride and is used by the state as a powerful weapon against anyone who dares to challenge it. Contrast that to the more subdued role patriotism has, or had, rather, in British society. In 1997, flying the Union Jack was a no-no. By the time the Football World Cup rolled in, in 2006, British and English flags were everywhere. And people of all colours were proud to wave them. I remember thinking at the time: 'Good for them!' Still, I couldn’t bring myself to support my host country, having always sided with the Argentinians and Brazilians until then. Was I being unpatriotic?
When the British parliament, misled by Tony Blair and his crooks, decided to invade Iraq, I was torn between joining – what turned out to be – the largest demonstration ever on the British Isles and staying home. On this occasion, my concern was about the people taking part in the march and whose anger I shared. But again, more than twenty years of participating in rallies in Cuba ‘voluntarily’ (yeah, right, pull the other one) had made me apathetic to demonstrations, even if the cause was a just one. And again the question popped up: was I being disloyal?
And the more I think about this issue of patriotism, the more I realise that it affects not just us, immigrants, but also citizens born in the UK. With more British soldiers coming from Afghanistan in coffins, a new voice of dissent is being heard: that of the relatives and families of the dead. And the words coming out of their mouths have a similar undertone in most cases. Their loved ones cared for their country, but the cause for which they died was not the right one. Could anyone accuse them of treason, of being unpatriotic?
My British passport and citizenship were the confirmation that I had fully integrated myself into this country’s narrative. On that note, I would call myself a patriotic person. But by the same token, no one should take that feeling of belongingness for granted. Being critical of the government is not being disloyal. As I understand it, the notion of patriotism is very complicated and rather messy and it can be used effectively by groups that think themselves disenfranchised; I’m talking to you, BNP. On the other hand, though, when there's a sense of togetherness, less judgement and more understanding, less prejudice and more acceptance both from and for newcomers, the results are usually more love, affection and respect for one's surroundings. And that, to me, is the real definition of patriotism, even if I continue to fail (on purpose, mind) Norman Tebbit's famous cricket test. You see, I don't even like that sport.
Next Post: 'More about the song' (Review), to be published on Tuesday 19th January at 11:59pm (GMT)