Happy Birthday U.S.A.

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It’s 8 p.m. in London, the sun is still up and people are flowing out of a little cafe, also functioning as a sports bar, onto a cobblestone street lined with criss-crossed bistro lights. As I make my way across the street-side patio and inside, trying to gently nudge my way past packed bodies, I am instantly captivated by the many screens above me.

I stop squeezing by people to watch the game — USA vs. England in the semifinals of the Women’s World Cup — and I catch Christen Press heading the ball off a long cross from Kelley O’Hara to score a goal in the tenth minute. Everyone around me — no one I had ever talked to or even seen before — erupted. Shouts, claps, whistles and yells — you name it. I felt happiness in the air, but also some degree of surprise. For one, I didn’t see Megan Rapinoe on the field and I also wasn’t expecting to see such a large American turnout.

After England’s Ellen White scored what would be the team’s only goal, it became known that I was still in London after all. The cowbells clanged and someone flicked the lights on and off. Their celebration outdid ours, but we were just getting started. As the game continued, I could still feel the American pride.

While I’ve always loved competition and winning, when it comes to national pride, the concept seems a little different. There are a lot of things to be upset about in our country right now. I used to think that those who fly the American flag from their truck beds, or those who bring the flag as a part of a counterprotest at the March for Our Lives rallies, were ignoring the plight and struggles of people across our nation.

And some of them very well might be. But a few months ago, my dad suggested the idea that we take more pride in our country. That we too fly our American flag because we too are American. The United States is not a place just for white men, but a place for everyone, so he proposed we take more actions to show that we actually believe and embrace that sentiment.

Watching the U.S. Women’s National Team advance to the tournament finals reminded me how proud I am to be American, not just because my team won the game, but because of so much more. Our freedoms, our rights, our identities, our communities and our opportunities are ones not granted, encouraged or accepted everywhere. 

Yes, we have much that needs improving. And yes, at times, it seems as though we move backward. I’m not saying to forget pushing for equality and justice, but recognizing the good in what we have — no matter how terrible things may seem — can provide some optimism and hope for moving forward. 

As our women’s soccer team continues their fight for equal pay, I’m reminded that the United States is a place where we can address injustices and eventually can achieve fairness. 

Happy birthday from across the pond, America. Sunday’s battle is just the first of many we will win this upcoming year.

Surina Khurana covers men’s basketball. Contact her at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @surina_k.