In Which America Did You Grow Up?

On my way to church this morning, I pulled up behind a car with a bumper sticker that said, “I miss the America I grew up in,” and I found myself nodding and thinking, “Amen to that.”

Then I wondered…did I grow up in the same America as the person in front of me? Do our nostalgic wanderings take us to the same place? If we all want to make America great again, do we all want the same thing?

Through the wide eyes of children, their country is their family and their immediate community. Children seldom realize the diversity of America; they know only that their corner is home. It is what, when they are adults, they will most likely believe America was when they were young.

I grew up singing Bob Dylan and Peter, Paul, and Mary protest songs in two-part harmony with my mother. My family boycotted orange juice for a time because of Anita Bryant’s anti-gay sentiments. I grew up believing that Roe vs. Wade was an important victory for women and hoped the Equal Rights Amendment would further advance that cause. In fact, I met one of my closest, oldest friends defending the ERA to my 9th grade classmates. I was raised to believe that racism was real and an impediment that would one day be removed so that all could share in the prosperity of America, but it would take work. I was raised to believe the world had much work in it for my growing hands.

The America of my youth was my family, my Unitarian church, and my school, which for a time was Open Living School (or “the hippy school,” as I recalled it to my own children). In my childhood, it was understood that “war is not healthy for children and other living things.” Like most people, my parents chose friends who held similar values to theirs, and these adults defined my world. They believed in social justice. They were mostly White, but they adopted Black children, Latino children, and child refugees from Vietnam, and we all played together. Yes, I recall the America in which I grew up with great fondness.

I miss unapologetic feminism. I miss the open acknowledgement of racial inequality coupled with the passionate desire to abolish it. I miss righteous indignation in the face of unjust war (though I don’t miss the draft or the hostility our troops faced when they returned home).

Is that what the person in the car ahead of me longs for?

In a recent Facebook post, I suggested that the phrase “politically correct” doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone. Likewise, I think perhaps we should ask what making America great again means to each of us. Only when we truly understand what others mean when they speak, only when we acknowledge that we have different roots, but all those roots—seen through the eyes of children—hold home, can we build the bridges our nation so desperately needs.

About admin

Paula is an author of historical fiction as well as a wife, mom, and teacher.
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2 Responses to In Which America Did You Grow Up?

  1. Gillie Bishop says:

    On the other hand…I had a friend growing up whose mom took away all his Wonder Woman stuff in an attempt to stop him from being gay, and he ended up hanging out at a gay bar at 17 because it was the only way he felt safe exploring his sexuality in our Montana hometown. Now, I regularly see Facebook photos of teens exchanging corsages with same sex dates, and a friend’s 10-year-old just came home from camp and told his mom that his best camp friend prefers to be called “they” or “them” instead of a gender-based pronoun. And my kids have multiple friends and classmates with same-sex parents. Some things are better than the world of my childhood!

    • admin says:

      Definitely true! My key concern is that we often think that, as Americans, we come from a common culture and have the same memories, hopes, fears, etc. I wonder if the person in the car in front of me meant that the America he misses (and that people like us changed) was one where a boy didn’t play with Wonder Woman toys and stayed in the closet if he was gay. I think some people see the changes that we consider overdue and hard-won as threats. Perhaps, if we had real conversations about these things, rather than reacting from places of fear or condescension, we would have less vitriol between us.

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