Musings on the Fourth of July

The Fourth of July is peak Americana. It’s being perched on the steps, devouring a melting tri-color popsicle while being eaten alive by mosquitos. It’s overhearing your family talk about politics while you and your cousins frolic obliviously in the pool.

My family could never be accused of going overboard to celebrate the Fourth. We never bought any of the very loud (and very illegal) fireworks to set off in our backyard, and after my brother had a rather nasty encounter with a sparkler>???> when we were little, my parents were even more reluctant to buy them.

The sometimes-uncontrollable spirit of Americans can certainly be seen in the gusto that many people buy illegal fireworks with. Inevitably, even though fireworks are illegal in Dallas County, you’ll hear loud bangs and fizzes in the alley. It could be seen as a nod to our more rebellious tendencies, to laugh in the face of those who say we can’t do something.

Since it’s too hot in July in Texas to really go have a proper outdoor cookout, we would always eat inside to keep cool. We’d never go to a parade either: too hot, and the mosquitos would eat us alive. So, we would inevitably end up inside, enjoying a simpler but decidedly more comfortable version of the most American of holidays. However, one of the best things about the Fourth of July is that we’re free to celebrate in whatever manner we wish, whether it be stuffing our faces with hot dogs or just catching a break from the heat indoors.

There have been many things said about what the Fourth of July means to different groups of Americans, and I am not going to say some vague, saccharine statement on how we all need to band together as Americans during this trying time of coronavirus and racial disquiet. The truth is that this country has an innumerable amount of problems, chief among them being the fact that our democracy was shaken by the January 6th insurrection. And while I’m sure there will be a Ken Burns-esque documentary made about that day twenty years from now, the fact is that we are currently living in a country that is badly politically fractured.

Afterall, this country was created by breaking away from the most ancient form of governance: monarchy, and ever since it has been quite a bumpy ride governing an ever-expanding country while navigating the problems of its people.

However, this is certainly not the most divided we’ve ever been. Social media has a nasty habit of overblowing the gravity of current events while neglecting past ones, and certainly nothing can bring a nation to its knees like a civil war. There are few things that are worse for a country than its own soldiers killing their countrymen, and for four years, that was the United States. We should never forget the fact that this country tore itself apart over slavery, and the resulting conflict left hundreds of thousands of Americans dead at the hands of their brothers. It was the result of divisiveness that festered into hate for one another, and it brought us to our knees.

It is difficult for some people to celebrate the Fourth of July, knowing that it’s the celebration of a country that has not always been kind to its people. Whether it be African-Americans, Natives, or some of the many immigrant groups who were discriminated against upon their arrival here, there has always been at least one group that some people would consider “un-American.” With time, the sense of otherness will hopefully dissipate, but the sense of not being accepted by the establishment often lingers within such groups. As we saw with the establishment of Juneteenth as a federal holiday this year, sometimes the only way to make amends is to give a group their own day to celebrate their own accomplishments. However, I don’t think this diminishes the uniting effect the Fourth of July has on most of us.

It is fair to ask, after the pandemic and a nasty presidential election, what will this year’s Fourth of July look like? For some, it may herald the return of a normal life where we can go to a pool party and raid a snack table without obsessing over the coronavirus. For others, this holiday represents a return to normality of a different sort: of a government at least willing to acknowledge that the American Dream is still out of reach for some. Despite all the red, white and blue decorations, some people are truly not in the mood to celebrate. And that’s fine, because no one is forcing you to wave an American flag and scream until you feel hoarse. Myself? I think I’ll go on avoiding the sun, but might have an extra hot dog to celebrate a return to a normality of sorts.

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