By ROBERT AVILA
Special to the PRESS
There is a deep irony anytime the familiar drum beat of Bruce Springsteen’s 1984 song “Born in the U.S.A.” begins playing at a political campaign rally today.
Thirty-five years after it its debut, it is still one of the most misunderstood songs in American politics, so much so that we should be asking ourselves do politicians even listen to the lyrics of songs before they play it? Do we ourselves ever stop to listen to the lyrics? The lyrics of a working-class man in a spiritual crisis, returning home from Vietnam to find himself struggling with feelings of isolation in his own home and country, to me, sounds so strange and foreign at one of our elected leaders’ campaigns.
If you really listen to the lyrics, you can hear the pain underlying the foundation of the song, a pain that, if acknowledged by its listener, makes the chorus of “Born in the U.S.A.” sounds nearly hollow. If you ignore the pain, the spiritual crisis than — like many politicians — you hear only the beaming deaf celebration of patriotism. Make no mistake, the song is about pride in our country, but it is not a celebration of America, it is an embracement of the pain and loss and isolation felt by Americans throughout our country’s history we often ignore over the sound of that powerful chorus.
The deep irony of a politicians playing the song at a campaign rally is that it is a song of workingclass rebellion directed at them. We were born in the U.S.A, the chorus states proudly — and we deserve better than what the politicians who run this country are giving us.
It’s hard not to think of the American spirit as tens of thousands of prodemocracy protesters in Hong Kong marched towards the U.S. consulate singing the “Star-Spangled Banner” and waving a U.S. flag earlier this month. Protestors seek the passage of the bipartisan Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which would mandate an annual assessment of Hong Kong’s autonomy from mainland China — granted under the 1992 Hong Kong Policy Act — and mandate sanctions against officials from China or Hong Kong who commit human-rights abuses, in light of the current protests. In essence, the citizens of Hong Kong are asking the U.S. to help give them a voice their country will listen to as their own China continues to ignore and miscategorize their voice, spreading anti-protest propaganda in their country and to the outside world.
To understand the separation between Hong Kong and China, think of it this way — citizens of Hong Kong are more likely to call themselves “Hongkonger” than Chinese, more likely to state they were “born in Hong Kong” rather than China. The separation comes from Hong Kong’s historic past as a former British colony, under Bristish control until their handover to China in 1997, becoming a “special administrative region” subordinated to China’s government. To mitigate panic caused by the transition, China enacted a “one country, two systems” policy to which Hong Kong could maintain an independent government, legal, economic and financial system, separate from Mainland China. The 1992 Hong Kong Policy Act in the U.S. was enacted preemptive to this transition, stating the U.S. would continue to recognize Hong Kong as separate from Mainland China concerning trade exports and economic controls after 1997.
Citizens of Hong Kong take pride in the separation — their laws are rooted in freedoms of speech, assembly and freedom of the press as opposed to Mainland China, governed by the Communist party known for censorship and punishing those who speak against the party. The root of the protest is about maintaining Hong Kong’s separation from China and protecting the values —similar to Americans — they hold dear. It is about democracy — something the citizens of Hong Kong have long feared they were losing, which finally bubbling up to today’s protests which began with the Hong Kong government’s attempt to enact an extradition bill which Mainland China protesters feared would subject Hong Kong citizens to mainland China’s legal system.
Hong Kong’s Chief Executive withdrew the treaty earlier this month, however, because of the incidents that occurred against protesters, such as the police’s heavy use of tear gas, China’s apparent pressure to companies to fire staff supporting the protests, and wide-spread anti-protest propaganda using fake social profiles by the Chinese government. Regardless of this, the protests continue in Hong Kong today. The protestors demand a public retraction of the categorization of their protests as riots, a release of protestors who have been arrested, and a serious independent inquiry into Hong Kong police tactics (which internationally have raised questions of human rights violations), and more security, outside of China’s rule, for Hongkonger’s to democratically elect their own leaders.
Protesters in Hong Kong are asking for democracy, put simply, they are asking China not to ignore their pain and loss and isolation because, even in this they are proud to be from Hong Kong — and they deserve better than what those who run their country gives them. Isn’t that the American spirit our leaders should recognize and support? If it isn’t, then we deserve better.
Editor’s Note: Robert Avila, J.D., is an opinion and humor columnist from San Antonio, Texas, who writes biweekly for the Port Isabel-South Padre Press and the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. You can find further background and sources to columns at his website https://robavilascolumns.wordpress.com.