I just got back from Argentina, where Katie and I led a group of 12 university students and another faculty couple through the streets of Buenos Aires for a week and then spent two weeks in Cordoba province.
We toured museums, took tango lessons, visited schools and climbed the foothills of the sierras. We chatted with university students practicing English at the second oldest university in South America. We rode on a wooden subway with open windows. We wished we knew Spanish.
And we were there for May 25, primer gobierno patrio, a holiday that celebrates the revolution of May 1810 when the first national government was formed. We visited an elementary school in San Nicholas for a festival that felt very like the 4th of July in many small communities here.
It was a poor school on a dirt road with a bathroom many of us would not use. But there was a full schedule including a reenactment of the nation’s early history, folk music and dancing, and a gaucho demonstration where riders tried to put a straw through a ring while riding as fast as they could.
The Argentine version of the PTA was grilling chicken and choripan and the kids were all dressed up as lords and ladies, gauchos and slaves. You can imagine their disappointment then, when the principal announced there would be no patriotic songs because they didn’t want to offend us, the visitors from the United States.
Oh, wait. That happened here, in the U.S. This week a principal in New York wouldn’t let kindergarten classes sing “God Bless the USA” at their graduation because she didn’t want “to offend other cultures.”
In Argentina, however, they ran up the flag and sang the national anthem with passion and gratitude, some of them moved to tears that they remain a free people. It was a wonderful day filled with national pride, in a country that struggles with more economic hardship than we do and a government more self-serving than our own.
Our students played hopscotch with some of the kids and we bought food from the vendors. We enjoyed the program. In fact, we enjoyed the entire day as families gathered on the school grounds to celebrate history and tradition.
One of our students later said she was moved by their pride. And it made her want to have more pride in her own country. She said she was sometimes ashamed of being an American but that she understood better that patriotism can be a public good.
When we got back to Detroit another student got down on her knees and kissed the ground.
Perhaps when we return next year we should take a certain principal from New York.