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When the symbol takes precedence over those it supposedly represents

Isabella Lopez, Co-Editor

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This past Veteran’s Day I gathered with three other members of the ensemble to sing the Star Spangled Banner for a ceremony at the Borough Hall that would commemorate those who had served and those currently serving in the US military. The ceremony was marked by various touching speeches from local veterans, though the most moving part for me was listening to the small crowd sing in unison to ‘God Bless America’ with two of the boys in the ensemble.

In Mexico, veterans gathered at their own ceremony–deported veterans, that is. The Deported Veterans Support House in Tijuana, Mexico, also known as “Bunker,” provides shelter, food, clothing, and other services to deported veterans in Mexico and extends support to deported veterans in other countries. Their ultimate mission is to ban the deportation of current and former US veterans. Hector Barajas began the shelter three years after his own deportation and works without pay to help deported veterans apply for benefits, which they should still be able to receive as there is no law blocking this. Unfortunately, Barajas says that “deported veterans have a hard time getting through to the Veterans Crisis Line for people who are suicidal. They lack access to doctors…and, they need medical clinics and veteran service officers to help those who are deported file for their benefits.”

NBC News estimates some 230 veterans were deported after serving in the US military and that 11,000 non-citizens are actively serving, while 12,000 are currently serving in the Reserves. Deportations are most often a result of past criminal activity, including non-violent crimes. Of course, this is only a small fragment of the hardships veterans face. Many veterans who are citizens often end up homeless, suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or other mental illnesses, and substance abuse.

What I’ve come to observe while watching this country divide itself over protests and ideas regarding the American flag and the national anthem is that those who are vehemently against and offended by those who kneel or stick a fist in the air are merely sticking up for a symbol. They remain silent when those represented by the symbol are reaching out for help. And while I feel the American flag should represent all citizens equally, regardless of military status, there are many who believe it first represents those who have joined the military to protect the values the flag supposedly represents (a view I can understand and respect), and their hypocrisy speaks volumes. Patriotism cannot stop at the symbol. It is not enough to salute the flag if you are going to ignore the many challenges that veterans face after they return from war and proceed to do nothing to better their post-war experiences but offer artificial support, aimed not at the individuals who served, but rather the idea of these individuals, and in turn completely ignoring the complexity and uniqueness of each veteran’s personal experience by focusing on a singular idea of what patriotism should look like.

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The student news site of New Milford High School, New Milford, New Jersey
When the symbol takes precedence over those it supposedly represents