Back at home, on my house, we hang the American flag on important US holidays like President's Day, Veteran's Day, Memorial Day and Independence Day. As our flag flaps in the windy February and May Spokane days or hangs stagnant in hot July, it symbolizes freedom and independence. And is the action we take as US citizens to remember and honor those who have served our country in a variety of ways.
In the past 5 days residents of West Belfast have endured nightly riots initiated by radical Loyalist and Republican groups. The rioters are fighting over whether or not, per the Peace Agreement, the British flag can be flying 365 days a year.
From the perspective of the Republicans, raising the Union Jack is an "in your face" (our guide, Paddy?from today) act of dominance and/or insecurity. As Paddy told us, against the bitter cold and windy North Ireland weather, his flag would get tattered and worn if left up to hang day after day. When Sinead the photojournalist visited us last week she was asked to comment on the current flag issue in Belfast. As an Irish Catholic, 33 year old who was raised mostly in Derry, she responded with something like "I know who I am.....I don't need to fly a flag to show it."
I don't recall hearing a Loyalist talk about what the Union Jack flag means to them. Is it a symbol of allegiance to Britain? Or an act of oppression of Catholics? Just one of the many questions with which I am wrestling.
Last week I became obsessed with flags. I noticed them everywhere. And not just the Irish Tri-color and the Union Jack, but all flags, including a display of tiny flags in the restaurant in Austin's department store. For the first time in my life I find myself questioning what the American flag means to me?