Transforming Patriotism to Matriotism: Transcending Walls of Fear

Since 1979, I have carried around the famous color picture of Earthrise over the surface of the moon, to remind myself and others that borders and boundaries are but a figment of the human imagination.

I’ve whipped it out, perhaps unwisely, in various countries’ consular offices when I was having trouble getting a visa. I’ve shown it to Afghan Mujahedeen and Tibetan monks, urban elites and non-literate villagers in South and Central Asia and Africa.

On Christmas Eve, 1968, astronaut William Anders photographed this entrancing view of Earth as a whole planet. I remember lying in bed ill with the Hong Kong flu, watching the image on TV through the fevered and tearful eyes of an idealistic teen-ager whose hopes had been shattered by the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy earlier that year and the ongoing horrors of the Vietnam War.

Though this was not the first view of Earth from the moon—a lunar orbiter snapped a low-definition black and white version on August 23rd, 1966—it was a stunningly vivid vision of our entire planet. Its absence of borders and boundaries clearly showed that nothing separates us except our own fears and constructions, mental and physical.

From that moment forward, I realized that the very conception of the nation-state was outmoded and destructive. Unknowingly, I was already moving away from the concept of “patriotism,” an often blind love of the country or “fatherland,” to “matriotism,” a love of Mother Earth.

A few days after humans first set foot on the moon in July, 1969, I had my first experience of hostile boundaries. When my mother and I took a driving trip through western Europe in 1966, crossing borders seemed exciting and novel. In 1969, the process took a darker turn the day we drove through East Germany and then crossed into West Berlin.

My usually unflappable mother was nervous as stone-faced East German border guards searched through every single possession and then drove our car up onto a platform to make sure no hapless East German citizen was clinging to the axle in hopes of escape.

In West Berlin, my mom took a picture of me standing unhappily next to coils of barbed wire, as close as we could get to the famous Berlin Wall. The expression on my face is unmistakable. And I feel the same way about walls of separation now as I did then.

On our day tour into East Berlin, the guide’s words of propaganda couldn’t erase what we were seeing with our own eyes—a gray city under a blue sky, populated by fearful gray people wearing dark colors, a veritable vision of Orwell’s 1984.

Communist Poland felt like a cheerful paradise of freedom compared to East Germany. Then we crossed into the Soviet Union, in the era of détente when there were slight cracks of light through the Iron Curtain. We were greeted with a combination of warmth and curiosity by ordinary citizens. We were never treated as representatives of an enemy nation, though officials at the Intourist office, receptionists at hotels, and the “floor women” who monitored the coming and going of every hotel guest seemed to view us with a combination of surprise and suspicion. We were there for the most innocent of reasons—my mother’s curiosity about our Polish and Russian ancestry had spurred her to set out on an adventure of heart-to-heart discovery and diplomacy.

While I looked behind picture frames for microphones, my mom tore up and flushed down the toilet the postcards we were supposed to mail to a Russian pen pal of my dad’s friend when we got near Leningrad. Mom was fearful of bringing trouble to him, and by that time was thinking that maybe bringing her teen-aged daughter on this trip hadn’t been such a good idea after all.

Lenty, the pen pal, found us after all, as there were only three hotels were foreigners were allowed to stay. He and his quietly dissident flatmates were welcoming to us, openly proud to shepherd around an American mother and daughter. They fed us in their shared apartment, sang songs of dissent that made them laugh, and showed us the radio that had only an on and off button, and volume control for the one government station that spewed propaganda and martial music.

I’m grateful for my early education in multi-cultural values, which admirably prepared me to travel to (so far) 50 countries, including some pretty dodgy border crossings. In my 20’s, I was briefly detained in Turkey for accidentally throwing Turkish money on the ground (how was I to know it was illegal because it had a picture of Attaturk, the father of the nation, on it?). The same day, I was strip-searched in London for unknown reasons—my personal letters, journals, and novel-in-progress perused by unfriendly men who were “protecting the country.” To my tearful question, “from what?” I received the mechanical, fanatical answer, “Everything.”

I’ve accidentally crossed one border—from the UAE into Oman with a group of diverse friends off-roading in the desert—and twice purposely snuck across another, from Pakistan into the warzone of then Soviet-occupied Afghanistan, first freelancing and later on assignment for National Geographic as a journalist in the early 1980’s. The anti-authoritarian part of me is very proud of this, as it was done for a good reason—to tell the story of the horrors and hopes of that phase of ongoing endless war that the region continues to suffer.

All of which has created in me a loathing of borders and walls built to keep people out, or in.

A recent study indicates that many people who voted for the current president were swayed by their own fear of diversity. Since diversity of all kinds has always been one of my most precious values, I struggle to understand this. My love of diversity came partly from growing up in Hollywood, and of course from the inclusivity and openness taught to me by my parents. Oddly, both were from poor rural backgrounds that did not generally engender the worldliness and curiosity my parents shared.

“The Wall” that the current president wishes to build—with an “attractive” appearance on the northern, U.S. side but not on the southern, “alien” side—is the most visible symptom of fear and division that haunt many in the country. Ironically, it would be built partially with money cut from the Coast Guard, one of our most effective agencies for deterrence of smuggling of people, including possible terrorists, arms, and drugs. It would also be an environmental disaster of epic proportions, cutting off wildlife corridors and slicing through habitat of endangered and threatened species.

The administration has already created a virtual wall through its attempts at “Muslim bans,” the “extreme vetting” of anyone attempting to enter the country—even returning American-born citizens in some cases—and digital strip searches of communication devices. Never mind that this has hurt our tourism industry and put a chill on academia and science. Even Canadian schools and Girl Guides (Girl Scouts) have cancelled field trips into the U.S. for fear that some members of their party—perhaps immigrants or refugees, perhaps those with Muslim names, perhaps people of color born in Canada—might be turned away at the border.

Current policies, far from going after the “bad hombres” (itself a racist term), are instead ripping apart families. What crime did a young woman removed from a hospital while undergoing treatment for a cancerous brain tumor commit? Why are “Dreamers” who have status under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program being arrested? Why are people being snatched out of courtrooms, and even their own green card hearings, and deported?

Every day brings a new tale of despair. Hysteria has been whipped up against the “others” viewed as taking the American jobs that were, in reality, cynically outsourced by corporations such as those owned by the current president and his cronies. Meanwhile, unpicked crops rot in the fields as farmers face difficulty finding American citizens willing to do the back-breaking and generally low-paid work that undocumented immigrants have been doing for decades.

It is a classic, possibly quite conscious, pitting of one out group against another—and the out groups seem to be everyone but the .01%, the superwealthy corporatists—and against life on the planet itself.

“The Wall” is not yet keeping Americans in, but all it symbolizes creates a fear of exploration, a fear of difference, a fear of curiosity, and ultimately an insular fear of the world outside. This is the very definition of xenophobia—fear of the outsider or stranger—and contrasts vividly with the Greek word for hospitality, philoxenia, which means “love of the stranger or outsider.”

I do not want to live in a country that prizes sameness and homogeneity over diversity and inclusion. I want to live in the country I know, where we believe in and strive for the ideals of unity growing out of diversity, and embrace these ideals and actualities. How else will we address the planet-wide environmental and climate emergencies we are facing?

Pollution respects no imagined boundaries. Nor does climate change. The western U.S. is polluted by ozone from Chinese cities, dust from the great desert of the Takla Makan, and radioactive ocean water making its way from Fukushima. Our pollution sweeps towards Europe and Africa. Pacific storms tear through Mexico on their way to wreaking devastation in American territory. Drought and water shortages affect equally Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Iran, Syria, and all countries in the region.

What can make it more clear that humans must work together to address a common emergency, that walls will only separate us when unity is most crucial?

I share concerns about corporate globalism with many people who may have voted for the current president, but the solution is not isolation. Rather, we need a new internationalism, an enlightened trans-nationalism. A Star Man or Star Woman visiting from another galaxy would be shocked and confused to land on this cloudy blue sphere only to find it divided by so many imaginary borders and walls.

In a time when the resurgence of the Divine Feminine is necessary to awaken us to the need for nurturing, even the word “patriotism” harks back to the last 5000 years of patriarchy, a dominator system that has brought endless destruction. What if instead we were to envision an era of “matriotism,” a loyalty to Mother Earth and all her creatures that transcends region, language, culture, and religion and embraces a diverse and vibrant Oneness?

Let this be our dream. Let us bring this dream into reality. Let us pool our talents, minds, and hearts to counter the existential threats we are facing to life on our planet. Let us redirect the money that would be used to build a wall of hubris to create a restorative equalitarian economy, regenerative agriculture, and a healed and balanced climate and eco-system.

Additional resources:

I thought I was very cleverly making up the word “matriotism” because it should exist. And indeed it does. My research found the following 2006 article on the subject by peace activist Cindy Sheehan, and this 2005 piece by scholar Steven Newcomb (Shawnee, Lenape) from Indian Country Today.

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