The man with the flag

Off the Beat

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On a regular day in my hometown, you can spot a white lifted Chevrolet Silverado driving down a major street. The truck stands out; it towers over all the other cars on the road, asserting itself in and out of lanes. Two large American flags sit on either side of the truck’s bed. As the truck moves down the street and takes a turn, the flags flutters. The flags catch the attention of many drivers, including myself. When I’m back home and I see these decorated trucks, I let out a little laugh and think to myself, “This is so Simi Valley.” Its look — its statement — is in your face. That’s the point. 

About a week ago during Golden Bear Orientation, a few leaders and I were walking our group toward the Downtown Berkeley BART station when I noticed a man walking in the opposite direction holding an American flag on his shoulder. As this man, who stood tall with a serious demeanor, walked by me, I turned towards him and excitedly said, “I like your flag!” He then coldly replied, “You’re the first person to say that to me.” This short interaction stuck in my mind for the rest of the day. 

In my hometown, there are flags everywhere. Some are on trucks, in front yards and painted on the walls of schools. Every July, a real estate company in town would advertise its services by placing a little flag on the corner of everyone’s mailboxes in my neighborhood. As a child, I looked forward to getting the little flag before my older sister did, so that I could wave it around as I ran through our backyard and hold onto it until the Fourth of July. 

Every year, my town had a huge Fourth of July festival, which almost everyone in town would go to. People would barbecue, go on rides, listen to live music and lie on blankets to watch the fireworks show. My family, having emigrated from Mexico to California, wholeheartedly took part in this holiday. My mom would buy us shirts with flags on them and red shorts from Old Navy so that we could wear them to the festival and show off our patriotic side. Seeing the man with the flag brought me back to these fond memories that sparked my patriotic side, which is still with me today. 

In being so accustomed and comforted by seeing the American flag, I couldn’t help but compliment the random man’s flag that he held on his shoulder. But in the back of my mind I thought, “Why? Was there some sort of protest going on today? Was he here to turn heads? Start a conversation or an altercation?” Because of the campus climate and the fact that UC Berkeley is prone to outside people coming in to make statements, I couldn’t help but question and overthink the situation.

A couple of days later, I saw him and the flag from a short distance away as I walked toward Upper Sproul.  My curiosity overcame me and I sped walked toward him. I introduced myself, letting him know that I recognized him from our last encounter and had some questions. He was standoffish at first and didn’t seem interested in having a conversation with me — a random woman who had just speed walked toward him — so I just started asking my questions. I asked, “Why are you walking around campus with the flag?” and he responded, “Why not?” 

When he answered my question with a question, I let out a laugh because I didn’t know how to respond. I guess that coming from a somewhat conservative and enthusiastically patriotic town to Berkeley (a town where patriotism is not as in your face) made me a little shocked to see someone being openly patriotic. 

Toward the end of our short conversation, he told me that on one of his trips around campus with the flag, someone threw a drink at him from out of nowhere. When he told me this, I was somewhat shocked. Of course, I don’t know the full context of the situation because the man with the flag is a complete stranger to me, but one thing I know for sure is that he was determined to display his patriotism, no matter the reaction. 

This country isn’t perfect — nothing is perfect — and while I recognize its vast imperfections, I’m still proud and grateful to be an American. 

“Off the Beat” columns are written by Daily Cal staff members until the fall semester’s regular opinion writers have been selected. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected].