I always thought of the Fourth of July as just another day. In school I learned that every year, it commemorated the day in 1776 when the Second Continental Congress ratified the Declaration of Independence and the official separation of the 13 original colonies from Great Britain. We learned about the Boston Tea Party, we learned about the Battle of Bunker Hill, and we learned about John Hancock. As a young child first soaking in loads of information, the idea that this actually took place seemed like some sort of myth. It honestly wasn’t until I started researching on my own, learning about the rich history of ancient countries, and traveling to countries like Egypt and Japan that I fully understood how minute American history is. In the grand timeline of history, the existence of this country is nothing more than a small mouse amidst wise elephants. The funny part is, that the history of America is something every student knows. We touch on world history, getting a general overlook, and sometimes a little bit of geography is sprinkled in. But mainly, year after year is spent boring the same 2 centuries of “the home of the free and land of the brave” into our heads. Ask any high school student “who spoke the words ‘the British are coming'” and you’ll receive an answer. Now ask them about the primary religion in Nepal, or how fast Arctic glaciers are melting, or even what the capitol of Arizona is… and you’re likely to draw blank stares. Most of the time, I feel embarrassed by how little I know about the world and for some reason, the Fourth of July always reminds me of this.
A year ago today, I wrote a journal entry expressing my frustration about what was happening in America. Quoting my less eloquent self, I said “Until every single person in America is truly free, then is the country itself truly free?” I still wonder that today. I look at how the British may have oppressed the colonies, and how our Founding Fathers continued to oppress what they viewed as “lower-class citizens”. I guess history is all about oppression, and just as we begin to notice the injustices in society, we also begin to work against it, forming what we can call a modern day “more perfect union”. Looking again back to last year, I remember those around me flooding social media with enraged calls to “stop celebrating the Fourth of July”. People finally had the time to look around and ask what they were really celebrating. Those apart of my generation looked at America and no longer saw fireworks and barbecues, but rather social injustice and fiery politics. I saw the same thing and it worried me. My dad is still saying “what has America come to?” when looking at tragedies on the news and I believe many people are thinking the same way. Mass shootings in public schools, the killing of undeserving people by law enforcement, climbing to the top spot in number of COVID cases, and recently, a crumbling building in Miami, all deeply concern me. Does the “American dream” exist, and are my loved ones safe?
Being young and unimportant, I can’t answer these questions. I know that today I will celebrate with my friends and family because I do look at both sides of the coin, and I do think there is something to celebrate. For one, of course, I celebrate the efforts taken over 200 years ago to fight for freedom… and hope that future generations will learn to fight in the same way. But, I also celebrate America for everything else that it is. I celebrate the country that took my parents in as citizens and allowed them to raise my brother and I as “Americans”. I celebrate the country where I am able to live with a melting pot of people from different cultures, socio-economic backgrounds, and religions. I celebrate the country that instilled values in me like individualism and that I can rely on to provide me with countless opportunities to carve my own success. I don’t hate America, and when people say they do, I realize they are mainly speaking out of anger or ignorance.
This post has had a lot of ups and downs. My message is probably very unclear — I don’t hate America, but I also don’t think it’s anywhere near perfect. I look at the progress this country is making, like when Juneteenth was declared a national holiday, and it makes me happy. Grievances and violence and hate will always exist, and it’s truly up to my generation to make a change. We start by educating ourselves. So today I ask you… before you light fireworks and swim in the pool, take the time to read about things going on the world and how you can help. America can only be the “land of the free” if we make it so. Below, I will include some articles you can look over and, if you have any good ones to share, please do so below. I hope you gained a bit of insight into my thoughts and as always, I would love to hear yours as well.
Happy Independence Day.
“The fact is, with every friendship you make, and every bond of trust you establish, you are shaping the image of America projected to the rest of the world.” -Michelle Obama
ARTICLES TO READ:
- ‘What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?’ by Frederick Douglass – https://www.thenation.com/article/archive/what-slave-fourth-july-frederick-douglass/
- ‘How to Support Black Lives Matter and Communities of Color’ – https://www.verywellmind.com/how-to-support-the-black-lives-matter-movement-5069931
- ‘Between Juneteenth and the Fourth of July’ – https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/04/opinion/juneteenth-july-4th-holiday.html
- ‘Immigration Doesn’t Just Mean Coming To America. These 4 Books Are Good Reminders’ – https://www.npr.org/2021/07/03/1011367989/immigration-books-roundup
Featured image by Stephanie McCabe on Unsplash.com