Flags as a Way to Preserve a Global Identity

By Kelli Duncan, Protocol intern

At the beginning of my semester-long internship when my Office of Protocol supervisor, Peter Kirkwood, told me (with much enthusiasm) about the importance of our flag collection here at The International Center, I was pretty sure he was overselling it. I mean, flags are just flags right? I was fairly certain that they existed in order to look nice in pictures and to prompt the removal of hats during the national anthem at baseball games before scarfing down the rest of a hot dog. But with the passing years our world has become a much smaller place due to leaps and bounds in globalization efforts.

Globalization: the buzzword of the 21st Century! Globalization means access to daily news updates in Qatar while dining in Paris. It means being able to fly across the world at a moment’s notice. It means the emergence of open minds that are eager to explore new places and, subsequently, it means a massive increase in global interaction.

Flags Indianapolis International CenterWith all of this international exchange of ideas and cultures, a common fear is that individual cultures will be lost in the process. In the United States, specifically, we have chosen to label ourselves as “the melting pot” of countries, which has always been horrifying to me. When I was taught this phrase as a child, I did not understand it and was incredibly nervous that someone was going to try to melt me into a big cauldron like the ones I had seen witches stirring in Disney movies. But even now that I can grasp this concept fully, I’m sure the idea is still just as frightening. Knowing all of the rich traditions and unique perspectives that each different culture brings to the global table, I can only imagine how great a disservice we would be doing ourselves if we were to melt all that away into one monotonous stew of social norms and expectations. There is a more modern phrase that calls America a salad bowl of cultures, meaning each ingredient has its own taste which complements the whole flavor. In my opinion, this is the type of mentality that we, as Americans, need to be able to embrace when we encounter diversity. However, this is often easier said than done.

So how can we combat the fear of culture loss? I believe that one very tangible and achievable way to do this is to promote strong global identities through the use of flags.

Flags IUPUI International Festival
Flags at IUPUI for the International Festival

For example, the IUPUI annual international festival is a multicultural event held in the university campus center to promote cross-cultural education and celebration. Toward the end of January, Peter and I, along with some very spirited volunteers, hung all of The International Center’s 193 flags of the officially recognized United Nations member states from the railings of all four floors of the student center. As we were setting up, students approached us left and right to tell us how much they loved the time of year when the flags go up. IUPUI students from all corners of the world were eager to find their home country’s flag and take a picture with it. The pride that they took in having their nationality represented in this way was very powerful to witness.

Flags serve as a symbol of where we come from and what we uniquely have to offer to the society in which we live. A flag symbolizes our loyalty to something much larger than ourselves. But most importantly, a flag reminds us that who we are will not be forgotten. We will not melt into the masses. We will stand out and stand with pride. So as it turns out flags are more than just 3’ by 5’ pieces of fabric and I now understand and share Peter’s enthusiasm!