When our forefathers were setting about signing the Declaration of Independence, they couldn’t possibly have envisioned how their decedents would be celebrating that memorable day. Flags waving, people of all ages decked out in red, white, and blue, barbequing, boating, or heading to picnic grounds to watch a fireworks display.
Having grown up in Brooklyn, my most vivid recollection of Independence Day was of watching the incredible fireworks display at Coney Island (most people could get an excellent view of it from the rooftop of buildings) and of learning the various patriotic songs associated with the holiday – sadly, these are songs that very few children are aware of today. My own children learned them either from me or my husband, or from the video tapes we bought them that featured songs Americana.
There has been a drive in the past forty years to move away from the melting pot concept of the United States for which our grandparents strived. My grandmother, herself an immigrant, went to night school to learn English and chastised a fellow immigrant for continuously speaking in her native tongue as opposed to English. (Her exact quote was, “Were they so good to you over there?”)
In recent years, all sorts of organizations have formed to celebrate the individuality of particular cultures and to recognize their contributions to American society. There is nothing wrong with that, nor in encouraging children to take pride in their heritage. What is unfortunate is that we risk losing any semblance of a shared culture, something that makes us all feel as though we belong here.
I’ve worked with young children who have never heard the story of Little Red Riding Hood and when I made an allusion to Chicken Little in describing the McCarthy era, the high school student with whom I was speaking was clueless as to what I was talking about.
And so I come back to patriotic songs. Some may consider them to be nothing more than flag waving but I would argue that they might feel differently if they were expatriates or traveling abroad. Years ago, when in Rome, I heard The Star Spangled Banner being played and it sounded far sweeter than when I’d heard it played at local sporting events.
Our country isn’t perfect. We’ve gotten a lot of things wrong, but we’ve gotten a lot of things right too. I think that Independence Day should be celebrated by everyone living in this country regardless of his or her background. Like Thanksgiving, cultural “touches” can always be incorporated. Naan bread with hot dogs? Grilled burgers with tabouli salad?
And how about those songs? How about we expose our kids to at least one patriotic song on the Fourth of July whether it’s Lee Greenwood’s God Bless the USA or, my personal favorite, Ray Charles’ rendition of America the Beautiful. At the very least, maybe we can make sure that when they’re in elementary school they learn the actual lyrics to The Star Spangled Banner?
However you choose to celebrate the day, I hope that you have a terrific Fourth (and please remember to take extra care of the pets -- this is not their favorite day.)
Thanks for reading Rhodes Less Traveled,