Abdi Nor Iftin is a Somali-American writer, radio journalist and public speaker. He lives in Yarmouth and can be contacted at [email protected]

In recent years, the words “patriotism” and “patriot” have taken on new meanings, particularly in the United States. Here in New England is where “patriotism” in the traditional American sense originated. You know, the Boston Tea Party, Paul Revere’s ride, the Minutemen at Lexington. And we have that professional football team that has won a few Super Bowls. Yes, the Patriots.

But today patriotism has largely been embraced by extremist conservative groups pushing away those like me who fought hard to get here. It’s used to stir up anger against the so-called “deep state” and the supposedly stolen 2020 presidential election. These groups identify themselves with the original patriots – underdogs revolting against injustice and oppression who are ready to take up arms in their struggle for freedom.

Their identity seems a bit muddled – many of them proudly fly Confederate flags, the standard flag flown in bloody battles by traitors against our country. But I’m not here to tear apart their falsehoods and contradictions. I support their right to call themselves patriots.

But I want to take that word back. Oh, they can still use it. But I want my piece of it. Because here’s the thing: You don’t have to fly a Confederate flag from your pickup truck or your front porch to be a patriot. You don’t have to own a gun to be a patriot. You don’t have to believe Democrats are pedophiles to be a patriot. You don’t have to be a member of any political party to be a patriot. You don’t have to be born in the United States to be a patriot. You can even hate the New England Patriots and still be a patriot.

For many immigrants, like myself, patriotism is not something we initially give much thought to. In the beginning, we are simply trying to survive and create a new life for ourselves and our families. In my case, I came from Somalia, a war-torn country where violence and starvation were everyday realities. I knew very little about America other than what I learned from American soldiers who came to protect us and Hollywood movies that we watched in a local “movie shack” with a dirt floor. At age 16 I stood around the streets of Mogadishu screaming that America was better than Al-Qaida while so many Americans in the U.S. protested against the wars America was involved in. I was a teenager, but I knew I liked America.

My journey to becoming a citizen of the United States was not easy. It was a long and often arduous process, but it was also one that I am grateful for. I know that I am lucky to have had the opportunity to come to America and I do not take that for granted. It is betrayal to push people like me from the American patriotism. The word “patriot” comes from the Greek “patrios” which means “of one’s father.” So, by definition, it’s your story, where you came from.

For me, patriotism is about striving every day to become a better, more complete citizen of this country. It is about embracing the values that make America great – freedom, democracy and opportunity for all. It is about recognizing that our diversity is our strength, and that we are all united by a shared love for this country and a commitment to making it a better place for future generations.

I share my story not to claim that it is unique, but rather to help others understand that patriotism is not defined by any one particular group or ideology. It is about the journey that each of us takes to become a citizen of our country, and the effort that we put in every day to make our communities and our nation a better place.

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