Friday, September 17, 2010

The Flag: Sacred Symbol of Nationalism

I read an article on CNN about Mexico's disgust at a cartoon drawn by artist Daryl Cagle depicting their beloved flag in a way that emphasized the problems with violence in the country. The flag which contains a perched eagle eating a snake, was drawn instead with an eagle "riddled with bullet holes in a pool of blood." Many Mexican readers were appalled at this portrayal of their flag and one commented that "It is a shame that a patriotic symbol like our flag, which is so beautiful to me, can be mocked by a stupid cartoonist." The author of this editorial article, who is also a Mexican-American, goes on to say that Mexicans should not have been offended by this cartoon; that instead, they should focus on defeating the drug traffickers, kidnappers and corrupt politicians instead of worrying about fighting the Americans and letting nationalism get the best of them.

While I understand the point he is making; that a cartoon should be the least of Mexico's worries, I can't help but imagine how the same scenario would play out had it been a Mexican cartoonist who portrayed the American flag in a not so positive light. Honestly I feel like Americans would have the same reaction; they would be offended... the flag is one symbol that embodies everything our country stands for. We grow up pledging allegiance to the FLAG, not the United States of America, we learn about the meaning of its stars and stripes, we have Flag Day as a holiday... Americans LOVE their flag!

The use and respect of flags has long been a symbol of nationalism in every country, and those who view it as a disease hindering the progression of cosmopolitanism all tend to agree that getting rid of symbols such as the flag, would be the first step in defeating nationalism. While I do not agree that these symbols should be done away with, or even that nationalism is a bad thing; it is quite apparent that such a symbol is understood to be full of meaning and important to its nation. I don't think that anyone should be surprised at Mexico's response to a cartoon that depicts its flag with a shot up eagle laying in blood... had a non-American depicted an American flag in a way to show us our flaws, we would be just as offended.


1 comment:

  1. People do attach significant nationalistic meanings to flags, and tend to have an emotional reaction when their flags are displayed.

    This reminded me of how the current Vietnamese flag is viewed by many in the Vietnamese-American community. For those who came to the U.S. as refugees after the fall of Saigon, the flag of their nation will always be the South Vietnamese, pre-communist flag (yellow with three red horizontal stripes). The current flag (red with a yellow star) brings forth strong negative emotions and memories of violence, relatives lost, turbulent times, and defeat. If you visit Eden Center (the Vietnamese shopping center in Falls Church), you'll notice that the South Vietnamese flag is displayed.

    Recently, this issue came to light during the distribution of the 2010 U.S. census. On the Vietnamese language version of the paperwork, the current, official Vietnamese flag was displayed. This upset many in the Vietnamese community, such that they got together a petition to get it removed.

    As the U.S. recognizes the official flag of the current Vietnamese government, it uses this flag on all official documents. So it really wouldn't have been feasible to replace it with the former flag. Instead, the flag was removed all together on the Vietnamese versions. (See for a few other controversial incidents)

    This example illustrates how the "nation" and identity of diasporic communities sometimes differs significantly from that of the original country.