A Somewhat Un-Patriotic July 4th Reflection

For most people, July 4th is a time of celebration. And since it hasn't completely turned into a day/weekend of binge drinking (e.g. St. Patrick's Day or Cinco de Mayo), something tells me that many people feel there is an importance to the date that supersedes us as individuals. It's a day that we can celebrate our freedom from oppression from the British rule...

...and then use that power to enslave, eradicate, displace, conquer, acquire land, then expel the indigenous...all in the name of Manifest Destiny.

I struggle with the sins of founders, and recognize the imitation of other leaders to achieve what we have through the same means. We wonder about the evils committed today, yet explain away the evils of our forebearers. In 100 years from now, will we forget the drive to end abortion, saying only: "That's how things were back then." In 100 years, will our descendants see any kind of evil in stem cell research with human embryos, or will we tell ourselves: "Yes it was bad, but look what we've done with that knowledge!" I realize I am making broad arguments, but I wonder if we as a country have found a way to explain away our bad deeds...so we can feel proud to wave our flag and to love our country.

All of this can surely be debated, however it is not the prime example of why I do not share in the usual July 4th celebrations:

When I was 16, my mother and I went downtown to see the fireworks on the 4th of July. It was our first year in Grand Rapids, MI...a much bigger town than Davenport, IA. I wasn't the out-spoken challenger of authority that I am now; I spent most of my childhood as a quiet poor kid surrounded by wealthy white kids...some of which had no problem telling me where I "belonged."

That evening when we got downtown, we found a place to sit and watch the fireworks. This (white) couple behind us starts making comments.

"Why do they always get in the way?"
"Why do illegal immigrants need to be here on the 4th of July?"
"I bet they don't even speak English."

There's two ways to experience this sort of thing. Being a quiet kid, I chose to not do anything. Underneath, I felt horrible...even guilty for having been "in their way."

My mother, on the other hand, whipped around and tore into the couple. Ironically enough, it was a middle-aged family with their 7 year-old son listening intently to the argument that now ensued. I remember hearing the man threaten to throw my mom into the fountain that was nearby; I remember the wife to tell her to "Shut up!" I remember the boy watching intently...all while the "Star Spangled Banner" played and the sound of fireworks filled the sky.

"United We Stand." No thanks, I'll pass.

Unfortunately, I've been forced to view my world without the rose-colored glasses. And if by reminding people of our past transgressions as a country labels me as "unpatriotic, unthankful, or even un-American," it won't be anything I haven't already lived.

May your day be spent with friends, family, and those you love.


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1 Response to A Somewhat Un-Patriotic July 4th Reflection

Qualis Rex
July 4, 2009 at 2:23 PM

Eeesh! Br Vito, I feel your pain there. I told you before I came to the US from Mexico City, but because I'm very European looking, I have gotten an earfull of such biggoted comments throughout my life, simply because the people making them were oblivious to the fact that I could possibly be "one of them" (well, until I opened my mouth). I'm very sorry to hear about your childhood 4th of July experience. That must have soured you on the holiday at least on a subconscious level.

For me, the 4th of July is just a day off with pretty fireworks and a chance to hang with friends. MY real problem is with Thanksgiving, since that was essentially a victory celebration over the indigenous tribes around the Plymouth settlement which was later repackaged and bastardized to be palatable and less guilt-ridden for the wider American population. Anyway, enjoy the weekend. Now excuse me as I have to put the plastic American flag up in my front yard that was left there last year in the absence of a "real" one lest anyone think me unpatriotic...