Friday, July 04, 2008

Red, white, and the blues

I surprised myself the other day by asking my dad if we could have a "real" 4th of July this year.

I'm not sure what I meant by that.

What I'm confused about is that the comment came out sounding like an impatient American child with immigrant parents. Could we save the hummus/chopsticks/beans and rice for another day? Can't we act like an American family just this once?

I suppose that I have been a stranger to July 4ths in a conventional sense. Up until last year, I spent most Independence Days at Jew Camp-- a dreamy bastion of foreignness in the middle of Confederate Flag-waving Maryland. Not that Jew Camp didn't celebrate the holiday. Far from it. That particular days was swarming with campers wearing redwhiteandblue, patriotic sing-alongs after a barbeque lunch (kosher, of course), and the invariable Americana kids show in the evenings. But beneath of all this star spangled fervor ran a faint sense of desperation, the sweaty scent of someone trying too hard. The lengths we went to celebrate the 4th the "correct" way made the celebration awkward in itself.*

After I left Jew Camp, I spent the next 4th in summer school in an effort to graduate college on time (you see how that worked out). Aside from a mountain of American-themed cupcakes in the dining hall, it was like the national holiday didn't exist.

All of this brings me up to this year and that squeezing feeling in my chest that I wasn't doing this "American" thing right. No fireworks, no party, and no thought of a barbeque until I practically begged my father to grill some hot dogs for me. Circumstances didn't help, either. My parents are self-employed, so even though it was a Friday, there was no sense of a long weekend. The sky remained stubbornly overcast and weather steamy, punctuated by occasional rain. My father insisted I make Israeli salad for our barbeque, which ruined the American theme I had been going for, and then promptly forgot to grill the hot dogs I had asked for.

It's stupid and ridiculous for me to complain about this. There are people in this country who legitimately have a right to feel left out of America and carry the air of "foreigner" around with them, no matter how hard they try to assimilate. Blonde-haired, blue-eyed, unaccented me-- I can do pretty much anything in this country without being hassled or questioned. I have no right to feel like the 4th passed me by without me feeling that surge of warmth and belonging. Do I?


*There was this one time (before I spent 4ths there as a camper) that things got a little weird. The director at the time, a gentile, was a Confederate Civil War re-enactor along with her husband. For some reason, they decided that July 4th would be a great time to have a "Confederate Day." A lot of weird things happened at Jew Camp, but that was one that only happened once.


  1. I've always found the country's push towards the Norman Rockwell version of the 4th of July to be a little depressing considering the sort of ideals they're stressing at the same time (e.g. liberty).

    Instead, it seems like it's the Know Nothing Party's version of America that rears its ugly head every 4th of July. [/political rant]

  2. It does seem that way sometimes. I mean, I think I'm over-reacting a little, but I can't help how I feel.