Ivy – my Filipino wife who became a US citizen in 2013 and now divides her time between Northern Mindanao and Southern California – wanted one bearing an American flag for the annual July 4th picnic and fireworks display during our visit to the USA. The problem was that none could be found.
“I can’t believe it,” she sighed, “last year they were everywhere!”
Eventually, migrating to another store, we were able to find one that, while not exactly a flag, was close enough to satisfy. And so, another American Independence Day passed with hamburgers, French fries, cotton candy and, yes, lots of lights in the sky.
But the experience was troubling; what’s the story, we wondered, with my native country and her adopted one? Part of the problem was that our paranoia had been fueled by a spate of recent news accounts; Nike, the renowned shoe company, had just decided to cancel the release of a planned flag-themed sneaker after former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick complained that the colonial-era Betsy Ross flag it featured was reminiscent of a racist past. And despite President Trump’s vow to deliver a non-political patriotic speech at the nation’s forthcoming July 4th celebration at the Capital Mall, his critics were still crying foul.
The upshot, for me at least; an Independence Day celebration that was muted, at best.
Ironically, Ivy took it even harder. Though she retains her Philippine citizenship and loves the country of her birth, she also harbors a deep affection for America, which has afforded her a life and career that otherwise would probably have been impossible. Consequently, when it comes to the Fourth of July, my sweet wife is right out there in the front row waving her flag and cheering for the red, white and blue. Her unbridled enthusiasm, in fact, has sparked a kind of rebirth of my own.
Which brings us to another issue; immigration, seemingly at the forefront of what currently ails America. I am certainly not anti-immigrant; my mother was one, my wife is one and now I myself am one, albeit in another country. Being in that position, however, has provided a certain perspective. As a legal permanent resident of the Philippines, I am not allowed to personally own land, participate in political events or demonstrations, publicly criticize the government or, frankly, even annoy immigration officials at airports or other points of entry. I am not eligible to receive most public benefits. And to remain legal, I must register and pay an annual fee, keep the government apprised of my whereabouts and, obviously, obey Philippine laws. Failing to observe any of these requirements could result in my deportation.
I have no problem with any of this because; clearly, it is what countries do to protect their national identities. What I don’t understand, though, is why so many believe that America should be exempt from the same process. And yet that seems to be the position of several would-be future presidents who, among other things, have proposed decriminalizing illegal border crossings, both of the past and into the future. Already, in fact, several major American cities and my own home state of California have consistently refused to enforce federal immigration law. And California’s governor recently signed legislation providing free taxpayer-supported health care to young immigrants who enter the country illegally.
I couldn’t help but ponder these things as I watched my beautiful wife wave her flag and cheer for America during the recent Independence Day celebrations. Part of why she loves and appreciates the country so much, I believe, is because of the significant – and legal – efforts she made to get here. Neither of us would have it any other way. Nor, we believe, should anyone else.
(David Haldane, a former Los Angeles Times staff writer, is an award-winning American journalist, author and radio broadcaster who recently moved to Surigao City with his Filipino wife and their eight-year-old son. This column tells the unfolding story of that adventure.)