When you first meet Steve, he doesn't look like much.
He seems like an outmoded symbol of radical American patriotism. The star-spangled man with a plan. You barely give him a chance, favoring flashier heroes, or reminiscing about the cartoon crusaders of your youth.
Until you* give Steve Rogers another chance.
*I won't pretend to know what convinced you to look at Steve Rogers and finally SEE him. For me, it was a fandom meetup in Brooklyn, celebrating a fanart zine dedicated to Steve and Bucky. The passion and love fans had for the characters was infectious. I re-watched the First Avenger through their lens. I realized that if Steve was the first Avenger, it was Bucky whose life was the first to be avenged. I began to see Steve as- yes- the boy from Brooklyn. The one who hates bullies. The one who never backs down from a fight. The allegory for performative masculinity. The one who stands by his convictions, no matter what. The one who embodies the best of America: the immigrant experience, the steadfast belief in freedom and equality and opportunity, the courage to persevere and stand up for those weaker than ourselves. That's who I see. You can look for yourself.
He introduces himself as Steve Rogers.
Not the symbol. Not the hero. The boy from Brooklyn.
"I think it's time that you know the truth. S.H.I.E.L.D. is not what we thought it was. It's been taken over by Hydra. Alexander Pierce is their leader. The STRIKE and Insight crew are Hydra as well. I don't know how many more. But I know they're in the building. They could be standing right next to you. They almost have what they want: absolute control. They shot Nick Fury. And it won't end there. If you launch those helicarriers today Hydra will be able to kill anyone that stands in their way. Unless we stop them."
The entire movie is an unsubtle critique of the U.S. wiretapping programs post-9/11, and it's coming from one of our most emblematic heroes.
"I know I'm asking a lot. The price of freedom is high, it always had been. It's a price I'm willing to pay.
And if I'm the only one, so be it.
But I'm willing to bet I'm not."
That's the horrible truth.
The freedoms we have (or don't have) come at a price. They must be defended with vigilance and courage. And unlike so many of our heroes, who make it look easy, Steve is willing to tell us the truth.
It's not easy.
For him, it's a fight that never ends. He thought he left Hydra behind in the forties, and they returned, more powerful than ever, within the very organization sworn to defend against them. The threats to our freedom are insidious. And they're not foreign or strange; they are PART of us. As long as we are willing to accept them.
Steve Rogers isn't just a symbol, with the flag on his chest. He's a person, and everything special about him was there long before he got the serum. He's the kid from Brooklyn who doesn't like bullies, and doesn't care where they're from. When the rest of us accept things as they are, he fights for how they should be. He's a hero.