Rafael Wahwassuck was asked to lead the Pledge of Allegiance at his elementary school and discovered that his family objected. He explains why the flag doesn’t mean the same to all people.
I came home excited from school, explaining to my folks that it was going to be my turn to lead the Pledge of Allegiance, and I was told no. I didn’t understand that right away. I didn’t understand because everybody else was doing it in the class. So I waited all year for it to be my turn to stand up in front of the class and lead the Pledge of Allegiance.
Then I was given a short history lesson. Part of that lesson was how the meaning of the American flag was not the same for everybody in that classroom, and more specifically, what it meant for our people and how in certain circumstances, it could be viewed as a sign of oppression to our people.
I left that day, knowing I didn’t have to, but I was free to lead the Pledge of Allegiance if I wanted to. When my day came at school, I chose not to lead the Pledge of Allegiance. I was then promptly sent to the principal’s office for not wanting to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance with the rest of the students.
Again, that’s just an early experience that I can recall, and it wasn’t until later on in my life that I had an opportunity to speak with one of my uncles because, as you know, you know my family, I’ve had numerous veterans in my family throughout the entire history of this country.
One of the ones who was a career veteran, I asked him, I said, “Why do you do what you do? I’m confused. I don’t understand. If the United States came in and they imposed everything on us, they took so many things away from us, why do you then proudly serve in their Armed Forces?”
He said to me, “The first time around when we had people coming in, we didn’t stand up like we should have. We didn’t stand up like we should have, and it put our people in a position where we are today back then.” So he said, “I’m going to do my part to make sure that I can do whatever I can to protect our people today and make sure that our area and our land and our beliefs are protected today.”