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Orlando Sentinel

Our Banner Of Freedom Allows Us To Choose

by Maria Padilla

September 26, 2001
Copyright © 2001 Orlando Sentinel. All Rights Reserved.

A newfound patriotism is on display throughout the land.

A line forms each morning outside of Orlando Flags on East Colonial Drive near downtown Orlando. The Kissimmee Utility Authority has handed out 46,000 flags. Banners are unfurled on residential streets and in cars as symbols of unity at a time when the country is hurting.

These are spontaneous and eloquent gestures. It's been quite some time since Americans last saw so much red, white and blue. Some people would like to see even greater patriotic fervor, especially among Puerto Ricans.

"I'd like to see if Puerto Ricans are going to take those [expletive] flags off their cars," a reader said via e-mail.

The reality is, you don't see as many Puerto Rican flags as before. Many Puerto Ricans have taken down their banners. They did so voluntarily, perhaps believing they're not appropriate.

The e-mail writer doesn't seem to understand that patriotism isn't authentic if it's obligatory. It must come from the heart.

There are Americans of every stripe who don't care to put up flags. That is their right. As citizens of a democratic society, we have to respect and accept such differences. But it's understandable that emotions are running high these days.

Another reader wrote that she felt ambiguous toward the United States because of its history of discrimination and mistreatment of minorities. "This hasn't always been a fair country," she said.

Fair enough. History cannot be denied. Yet, the writer is misguided. The fact that you or your ancestors have been discriminated against has little to bear on the moment. This is not the time to settle that score.

Previous generations have understood this in their times of crisis.

For instance, African-Americans have fought in every American conflict, including the American Revolution and the Civil War, although they weren't free.

They did so valiantly, even as they were forced into segregated military units. The Tuskeegee Airmen and the Buffalo Soldiers are just a few of the well-known units that contributed to American war history. Unfortunately, in some cases, official recognition of military service among African-Americans has come only posthumously.

In the past century, Puerto Ricans participated in every American war, despite ongoing political disagreements with the United States. Approximately 200,000 Puerto Rican soldiers have marched off to wars, ranging from World War I to the Persian Gulf , according to the Department of Veterans Affairs in Puerto Rico.

Today, Puerto Ricans are engaged in a big dispute with the United States over military exercises on Vieques. Yet there's no doubt that Puerto Ricans stand shoulder to shoulder with the U.S. in the fight against terrorism.

The reason is simple: More than two weeks ago, foreign terrorists invaded "our house" and killed members of "our family." The nation must defend itself or suffer a worse fate.

Winston Churchill, prime minister of Great Britain during World War II, warned that it's foolish to feed a crocodile with the hope that it will eat you last. Crocodiles have gargantuan appetites. And today, many roam the globe freely.

Similarly, it makes no sense to lose sight of our freedom of choice by forcing patriotism on others. And it's a non sequitur to use past grievances to get back at the nation. Every American is in the same boat now.

Click here, print and proudly display our flag.


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