On March 19, 2003, the day that President Bush declared war in Iraq, I was en route to Rome, Italy, accompanied by 36 classmates and my beloved high school Latin teacher, Mr. Lusco, who offers a ten-day spring break tour of Rome, Venice, Florence, and Lausanne, Switzerland to interested seniors every year. With the war looming over much of the trip's planning however, my senior trip had a greater focus on safety than in years past. Of course, the impromptu meeting called by my high school's administration the night before our departure certainly frazzled the nerves of parents, despite both Mr. Lusco's and the seniors' pleas to continue the trip as planned. The question lingered, "How will Americans be treated abroad if President Bush declares war?"
Needless to say, no one in my senior class was going to let anyone ruin the trip we had anticipated since our freshman year. So we spent most of the flight preparing ourselves to be full-fledged tourists, rather than worrying about our status as "Americans" like many of our parents did. We attempted to memorize useful Italian phrases, not realizing that our first encounters with Italian in Italy would not be "ciao" or "parle inglese," but rather "pace" ("peace").
From every balcony on my hotel's vibrant street hung these large rainbow flags with the simple word "PACE" written in white. I could not turn one street corner in Rome without seeing the rainbow flag prominently displayed somewhere, so much so that even my pictures of the historic Roman Forum capture the flags in the distance. Street vendors handed them out to anyone who walked by every single day I was in Rome, and eventually my friends did as the Romans did by hanging their PACE flags outside their hotel windows, too.
While we initially viewed the flags as neat souvenirs, despite its implications against us as Americans (though we, ourselves, did not support the war), I did not expect the PACE parade that occurred right in front of our hotel three days later. What I thought was a typical Saturday afternoon in Rome, with the streets becoming more boisterous as the day progressed, soon became something else. Mr. Lusco stood in the lobby of our hotel, sending us all back to our rooms when he learned that several thousand Italians would be marching throughout the city, including up our hotel's street.
Before I knew it, I saw floods of people below me dancing and singing through the streets while waving the PACE flags. Though the Italians were protesting the war, they did so by promoting unity and acceptance, and like typical tourists, we took pictures of the massive celebration below from our hotel windows, feeling helpless that we could not participate too. Or so we thought.
Two boys, probably teenagers just like me, happened to look up towards my group of friends and started waving their rainbow PACE flags. We opened the window, grabbed our "souvenirs" and began waving the flags eagerly as well, unsure of how the Italians would react to young Americans. Before I knew it, the parade had temporarily stopped and every Italian on the street was looking up at a group of fifteen of us waving our PACE flags. For the next five minutes, they all clapped, blew kisses,and cheered before continuing on down the street, a moment I will never forget. We were undeniably Americans, but at that moment, we were one of them, too.
Like the purpose of the PACE flag, the purpose of the gay pride flag is to promote all-inclusiveness, hence both flags' use of the rainbow. I am proud to be on a campus that actively responds to banners that divide and degrade, like the "Obey Jesus or Perish" sign last Wednesday on West Campus, but I am puzzled at why the rainbow flag outside of Giles Dormitory sparked controversy, despite its all-inclusiveness message and the prevalence of other rainbow flags on Duke's campus. Having had a friend drop out of Duke because he was gay, I want to be a part of a community where one's identity does not interfere with one's daily life, just as my experience as an American in Italy.
We may differ from each other in gender, nationality, ethnicity and/or sexuality, but we are human nonetheless, and acceptance is what we seek. Fine by me.
Miho Kubagawa is a Trinity junior. Her column runs every other Wednesday.
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