The Fourth of July has been a day of celebration. Many people spend the day with family and friends, watching fireworks, or gathering for a barbecue or cookout. As the holiday has evolved, so has the way Americans choose to celebrate the birth of our nation.
However, Americans’ feelings of patriotism have changed as the country has grown and progressed. A poll conducted by Gallup in 2018 measured the difference in feelings of patriotism throughout the years. Respondents were asked how proud they are to be Americans. Only 47% responded that they felt “extremely proud," down from 51% in 2017 and well below a peak of 70% in 2003.
But does Philadelphia struggle with feelings of national pride? Has living in the city where the Declaration of Independence was signed and America was born affected how residents feel about the country? To find out, The Inquirer rode the Market-Frankford line from end to end last week, asking people to share stories about the last time they felt patriotic.
Answers have been lightly edited for clarity and style.
“I think the last time I felt patriotic was going to the Odunde Festival. It was a celebration that started in Nigeria for New Year’s, but Philadelphia has the biggest Odunde festival in the nation, I believe. I mean, I don’t know if that is patriotic, it’s more [of] a sense of community, but that is a community within this country. It is a time [where] I feel a sense of community, a sense of safeness, [and a] sense of culture. I feel like being able to express the communities that I am a part of in this country in a sort of free way is what makes me feel patriotic.
So, [for me, patriotism is] not necessarily celebrating the Fourth of July. It’s more like celebrating Juneteenths, or celebrating Odunde, or being able to go to Pride. Having those be festivals and events, having the freedom to express yourself, even if everyone doesn’t accept it, the freedom to be able to do it without any reprimand is a good thing, and that in itself makes me feel patriotic.”
“I felt most patriotic when Obama became president. More doors would be open, and it was hope that if a black president was elected, then it would open the doors to other politicians as well, [such as] Hispanics. I was really happy, very overwhelmed with joy and with hope.”
“I thought there was going to be more change and difference, for black Hispanic individuals, to be honest. Because now that Trump is president, I am just not feeling it at all. [When Obama was elected], I was excited; I thought that was pretty cool. I think that the key was hope. It was exciting for me because when he first got elected, that was [the] first year that I was able to vote. So I thought it was pretty cool that who I voted for [won]. You feel [that] you made a change."
“[I felt patriotic] when I was in the service. I was 17 when I enlisted in the Navy. It felt wonderful. It was an honor to pass the test to get in. When I was in the Navy, I was on a submarine tender and we traveled down to Australia; I was really homesick, but you know … I’m a 50-year member of the American Legion. My father belonged to the American Legion post. We used to parade with the American Legion of Frankford Avenue.”
"[I attended a] religious festival next to the Liberty Bell a couple of weeks ago. The purpose of [it] was to [get] different religions together to celebrate freedom and the history of our past. This, one way or another, makes you aware of the history of this country and makes you grateful that we live here because the founders of Pennsylvania really took interest in how people live in their community. It invites you to become a better citizen.”
“There are other moments I have felt patriotic, but the latest, we went to see the Liberty Bell. It was very teary just to see where it comes from, to see what it meant to the slaves, even though the ringing of the bell wasn’t always good because that meant slaves were [being] sold. But yet, when I saw [a photo of Nelson] Mandela with the Dalai Lama [at the Liberty Bell Center], Mandela had a raised fist and they both stood for peace. Peace and unity, it’s just almost gone. I was tearing up … how nice it was just to be there at that moment.
I also feel patriotic in February when it’s Black History Month. My great-great grandmother, she was [a] slave. I just think, what people went through so I could just stand here and walk around endlessly, aimlessly, thinking about nothing, just as free as I please — sit where I want to and do what I want to. I think about the people that were here before me, that made it possible."
“Two experiences come to mind. One, I guess, was during the Olympics, during the opening ceremony. My husband is actually from Brazil, so I have a unique opportunity to get his opinion on the U.S., [on] how it’s different from other countries. Actually, we went to Brazil just last week, and that was the other experience that I immediately thought of [for] feeling patriotic — getting back to the United States and just feeling at home or at peace and that I could relax while being on U.S. soil. It felt more [like being] at home, a feeling of being grounded or safe. “
“[The] last time I felt patriotic [was] when I was working down here at Dilworth Park, over the course of the wintertime. I saw homeless people sleeping downstairs, in the blistering cold of the winter. I helped giving [them] food, making sure that they [were] OK. Sometimes I even gave them some money. I felt great doing that. I felt human. I felt American to help other people. I see homeless people everywhere. I felt the need to help them too — seeing them struggling and trying to get help, don’t know what to do. I think Americans need to step up better and show more patriotism.”
“The last time I felt patriotic was a long time ago, and most likely it was when [Osama] bin Laden was assassinated. I think that patriotism is almost misconstrued for nationalism, and I think that we have a lot of nationalism these days, especially with the election of Donald Trump. People don’t even know when they are being patriotic anymore; I almost don’t know when I am being patriotic anymore.
I don’t think that like half of this country supports their government right now, because Trump is so divisive. Patriotism is almost like a dying seed. Does it still exist?”
“If I am being honest, I really can’t remember [the last time I felt patriotic]. I guess if we are talking politics, maybe a little bit when [Osama] bin Laden [was assassinated]. But recently, not really at all. It’s definitely been really frustrating and difficult to watch what has been happening on the news.
I also just came back from living abroad in Sydney, Australia for the last six months. Definitely being all the way over there and hearing and seeing a lot of what was happening in the U.S. with the abortion laws and all of the shootings. It was really weird, to be fully removed from it. But then, to be somebody representing the U.S., meeting people from around the world, hearing what they had to say and their impressions of the United States, [it] was really embarrassing and definitely really discouraging.”