Monuments (of) Men?

Karen Till in the chapter on places of memory hit a topic that resonates with me and how I interpret places and their meaning to the local population. That topic is of how places of memory in a nation’s capitol are experienced differently by different people. The people who live in that place are going to feel differently about a memorial or monument than those of the same state or nation that visit. Even then, visitors from outside the state are going to have a completely different opinion from any other visitor or local. While in India, the school group and I spent 2 months in the capital of the Indian state of Orissa, Bhubaneswar. We were separated into subject groups and told to go through the city and analyze it through these aspects and talk to people who use and live in the city. One of the groups was tasked with finding out the heritage of the city. They were taken to this famous temple in Mukteswar known for being made with quality and for being so old. Many people, especially tourists, saw the temple as being important to the city and India. However, one day the team climbed into a autorickshaw and asked the driver to take them to Mukteswar. He had no idea where that was. It was a lesson in showing the difference between heritage of the local people and heritage of those not local to the city. Since then, I always ask about things that people consider to be cultural to an area: is it important to the locals or is it important to just a particular group?

But speaking on the subject of nationalism, patriotism, banal nationalism, and ‘flagging’ in the article by Gerald Webster, I’ve done some traveling in different parts of the world. How Americans approach their feelings country are very focused on the idea that America is vastly superior than other countries and, therefore, those country’s inhabitants. It’s actually really sickening to read the parts about how the flag has become this symbol of “us” versus “them” and how all the flag waving is blind following and patriotism so that the country’s managers (the President or Congress even down to Mayors and councilmen) can gain support either for re-election or different ideas and policies. It’s less about the ideas and more on the love of their country. Traveling in Germany, I saw the German flag and was there during the Euro Cup, so there was a lot of German pride being displayed, but I never got an idea that they believed that German people were better than say Turkish or Russian or French people. The same thing in India during their cricket matches or with politicians. When I visited Barbados, I have a lovely conversation with a local tour guide who relayed her frustration with Americans. The young Americans were rude while the older generations were racist. What gives us the right to walk into another country and be noticeably racist in a largely multiracial place or demand information based on a belief of self-entitlement as an American with a family that has money. It’s a cause of concern for me.

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