Time to update the pledge of allegiance

Time to update the pledge of allegiance
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I was starting second grade when I first recited the pledge of allegiance. The same year, my mother and I had just immigrated to the United States in search of a better life. 

Like that day 30 years ago, today the pledge still does not speak to me or even encourage patriotic introspection. It’s not due to a lack of appreciation for my new homeland, however. 

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The pledge’s history is deeply rooted in nativism and white supremacy. Composed in 1892 by the minister Francis Bellamy, the pledge sought to define “true Americanism” that didn’t include people of color and immigrants particularly those coming from southern and eastern Europe. 

At worst, the pledge’s disturbing history excludes countless communities, including my own family. At best, reciting the pledge has become a perfunctory exercise of rote memorization.

Our pledge of allegiance should be rooted in optimism, not stem from the fear of a white native-born Protestant culture. It is time to upgrade our pledge so we can truly recite words that live up to a nation that takes pride in our immigrant heritage and equality of all Americans. 

The original pledge was drafted as a generic template that could be used by any country. In its earliest form it simply read: "I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

In 1923 and 1954, the words, "the Flag of the United States of America" and "under God" were added, respectively, creating the 31-word pledge we say today. 

Amending the Constitution is a difficult political and procedural endeavor. However, upgrading our expression to our country and each other should not be. 

The upgraded version should read: “I pledge allegiance and love to our indigenous and immigrant heritage, rooted in the United States of America, to our civil rights for which we strive, one voice, one nation, for equality and justice for all.”

Inserting the word “love” in the upgraded pledge anchors us to a genuine patriotic affection for civic virtue, collaboration and respect for each other. This is a sharp contrast to the past and current misguided nationalism that very often breeds cultural, religious and ethnic intolerance.

Faced with an unceasing wave of xenophobia and discrimination against native Americans, we need to constantly remind ourselves that the United States is at its best when we embrace our immigrant and indigenous heritage.

White teenagers harassing a Native American elder or chanting “build the wall” at Mexican immigrants are not isolated incidents. Incorporating “our indigenous and immigrant heritage” is our pledge that we will pro-actively counter the danger that racism breeds. 

Similarly, protecting civil rights is an essential part of the democratic values of our nation. Expressly outlining a commitment to “our civil rights” is an acknowledgment to the movements that have and will continue to fight for our liberties.

The phrases “one voice” and “equality” represent today’s reality that our neighborhoods are more than ever interwoven with people from every part of the globe. 

With almost every language spoken and religion, ethnicity present in our neighborhoods, the U.S. is the cultural capital of the world. Nevertheless, we are bound not by language, racial or ethnic ties, but by a vocal and legal commitment that every American stands as equal regardless of their immigration status, religion, sexual orientation, gender, race, disability and so on.

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And finally, we should also upgrade the way we express our pledge. We should face the flag and face each other. Not only are we represented by the red, white, and blue but also by the colors of the world.  

Pledging allegiance to each other upholds the fundamental words of the Declaration of Independence of mutually pledging “to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor”. 

In good or trying times, we need to recite a pledge that deserves no less than our most intimate expression that we are a welcoming and diverse nation. We are once again confronted with global instability, xenophobia, discrimination, destructive climate change, income inequality.  

Knowing that together we can overcome national and global challenges brings us closer to a vision of hope and promise that our ancestors hope for. It’s time to upgrade our pledge.

Cesar Vargas Esq. is a co-director of the Dream Action Coalition.