WASHINGTON – As Americans celebrate their country’s 225th birthday, it seems their definitions of patriotism are as varied as their roots. With some of the nation’s most famous landmarks as a backdrop, the Fox News Channel asked visitors and residents of the nation’s capital to paint their own pictures of patriotism.
For Frank Steele of Phoenix, who was in Washington, D.C., for the July 4 holiday, patriotism is about family, a lineage to be passed through the generations.
"To be patriotic is to bring my son here," he said, holding his boy in his arms. "I’ve been to Washington several times. I served in the military and I wanted him to gain some appreciation for how old our country is and what it takes to be free."
Others, like military retiree Kelly Cross of New Orleans, think of the dictionary definition of the word — a love or devotion to one’s homeland.
"Patriotism means being able to give something of yourself to the country, for the good of the country," Cross said.
Events ranging from the Olympics to war can intensify citizens’ fierce pride in this country. So can the American flag.
"It means to be, like, really faithful to your country and to do the Pledge of Allegiance almost every day," said 10-year-old Sarah Newton of Huntington Beach, Calif., sharing her perception of patriotism.
American University Professor Alan Kraut said immigrants are often among the proudest of their citizenship. Since this country’s present-day democracy was established by European immigrants in 1776, the total immigrant population has risen to around 30 million — more than double the number in 1910.
"Some of the newest Americans are the most patriotic Americans," Kraut said. "They’re so grateful to the United States for all the blessings bestowed on them."
American pride can sometimes present a quandary for those who were born in other lands, making them question where their loyalties should lie.
"The United States has long been a nation of nations," Kraut said. "But which country do you love — the country you came from or the country you’ve just arrived in?"
Many choose both — keeping their culture and language alive once they move to the world’s "melting pot."
But after a particularly bumpy year of mass layoffs and a slowing economy, not everyone will be in the mood to unfurl Old Glory or sing "The Star Spangled Banner" tomorrow. Less prosperous times like these can take a toll on the "Proud to be an American" attitude. So can more dramatic national events in recent history, like the Vietnam War.
Still, even those who fought in Vietnam or lost big bucks this year can summon up a little love and devotion if they try.
"People need to remember their freedom is gained at a cost," said Navy Vietnam veteran Joshua W. Speights Jr., of Dumfries, Va. "I have always been patriotic. I will be patriotic as long as I live."
And no matter what plights its peoples have encountered, they can rally patriotism, whether it’s a time of crisis or not — especially on days like the Fourth of July. Everyone who has lived here has made a mark.
"A lot of slave labor built these monuments," said Larry Wright, an African-American who was visiting the nation's capital from Seattle. "This is a country where people can realize their dreams, their aspirations. There are things we can do to recognize the contributions of everybody."