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Why I like the Fourth of July

July 4th, 2005 · 3 Comments

It’s America’s birthday today but I have only become fond of the Fourth in the past five years. As a child, Independence Day meant we might get together for a potluck with friends, someone almost always contributing a patriotic dessert of whip cream, blueberries and strawberries in the shape of the American flag. Maybe we’d be given a sparkler or two to hold in the driveway. From our house, we could see for miles across a valley, so we would often stay up late and watch the fireworks. But fruit desserts and fireworks didn’t excite me. It wasn’t until we moved to Bainbridge Island that the Fourth of July meant more to me.

This season has its own indicators in this time and space of Kitsap County, west of Seattle. I know Independence Day must be approaching when I start to see the firework stands sprouting along the side of the highway between the island and Poulsbo, on the land that belongs to the Suquamish tribe. Fireworks now remind me of the Treaty of 1855, emphasizing the fact that the native peoples were taken off of Bainbridge and moved onto a reservation. I take my children to see an island midden, a buried pile of clamshells left behind from the families who camped on the shores of Eagle Harbor, where we picnic and listen to concerts on summer nights now. My daughters want to know what happened to the people who once lived here.

Strawberry season starts before the Fourth. Island berries appear in the T&C, the local grocery store. I bought a couple boxes this week. They are smaller than the ones often sold at the grocery, red and tender, delicate and fragile and flavorful. Berries have a legacy on Bainbridge. Strawberries remind me of the strawberry farms that were once abundant here, the remains of the canning factory that can be seen, and the families of Japanese descent who owned them and worked them, the people who were taken off of Bainbridge Island due to Executive Order 9066 and sent to internment camps in March of 1942. Flags made of fruits remind me of an American story I wish I didn’t know.

Bainbridge is a place ripe with history, as I discover significance in strawberries and fireworks, as I find the past affecting the present in ways I can see, taste and touch. It’s a history that’s alive. It’s a history that doesn’t make me proud of America. Why are the Suquamish living near Indianola and not on the island? Why did the Japanese farmers and others have to suffer and lose their land?As a child, at least as I grew older, I didn’t dress myself in red white and blue. I remember feeling frustrated with President Rambo and the various invasions our country seemed to sponsor. Being American meant covert operations, bombs and desire for domination. Or so it seemed to teenage me.

Even as an adult, I’ve had doubts. Reading books last summer, I began to question what I had been taught. Was Columbus corrupt? Did Lincoln care about racism? What is this land I know as my own? What is the identity of America, both here and abroad? What does Old Glory mean to me and to others?

Yet at the same time, other changes have happened in my life since I’ve lived on the island. We moved here as a very young family with our one year old daughter. Two more children have been born as we lived on Bainbridge. Most of our years as parents – five of seven – have been spent in this community. We’re now a family of five, homeschooling and exploring this place we have been given in time and space.

I’m grateful for our girls. They are growing up, becoming more like Ted and me, and also less like us every day. We see pieces of ourselves reflected in their faces and physique, in their psychology and personalities. They are a combination of their parents. Yet they are themselves, individuals the world has not yet seen, as all children are. Each one is different. Each one is her own.

The three individuals share a common heritage. Earlier this week, while trying to explain aunts, uncles and cousins, Ted and I started drawing the family tree, using the triangles and circles I learned for diagrams in school. I’m amazed to look at the history and to remember the stories represented through the geometry and lines scribbled on a piece of paper. The culture Ted and I have for our family is a combination a diverse past across three continents and our own ideas from this time and place. His family came to America to escape Communist China, with different tales of adventures and providence from each of his parents. One side of my heritage came to this country from a nation devastated by World War I, a nation that would next become Nazi Germany. The other side of my family traces its roots to New England settlers and French-Canadian pioneers centuries ago. Our daughters can claim their heritage across Europe, Asia and North America, across multiple languages and cultures, times and places.

It is here in America where Ted and I met. Here where our families came to find hope, shelter and freedom. And it is here, in this mix of peoples and nationalities, in this individuality and diversity of our family that I find what America means to me.

Since moving to Bainbridge Island, the Fourth of July has also meant more to me due to the community celebrations. Later this morning we’ll take the bus to watch the parade. The small town holiday traditions are treasures. Anyone can participate. Basset hounds and baseball players, neighborhoods and nonprofits, stores and students, environmentalists and corporations all are represented. We’ll see hip hop and hula hoops. Tribes dance down Winslow Way in their regalia and the Munro family bagpipe band march along in their kilts – both also reminding us of our history, of the island’s nobility, power, present and past. Maybe the kids will catch candy or other treats tossed from floats. I’m sure we’ll see people we know passing by in the parade. Fancy cars, fire trucks and politicians bring out the noise. It’s a snapshot – or rather a photo album – of who we are in this moment of time.

Puppets on Parade will be joining the celebration. For this group, the parade will be the final fun day of many spent creating aquatic creatures from paint and paper mache. Visiting Puppets on Parade earlier this week, I was amazed by the fun and freedom. Paint, pipes and paper mache turned into faces and fish. Old umbrellas and a backpack were transformed into a forest of jelly fish and a hermit crab. It’s a celebration of community and creativity.

What I saw at Puppets on Parade and the parade itself epitomize what America means to me. We can be ourselves. We can make what has never been seen before in the world, using our imagination and freedom for innovation. Liberty and generosity give us grace. We come from many nations and groups, bringing with us the treasures of history and stories to share with each other, unique and precious, contributing character and culture to our sense of unity. Together we can redeem the past and turn it into something beautiful in the present. Each of us has a part to play, a song to sing, a creation to share, a voice to be revealed. We have one history and many. We celebrate each individuality and our common group identity. We are America.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. – The Declaration of Independence

in a few hours, we’ll get dressed and out the door. This year, to my own surprise, I bought festive shirts for the girls to wear to the parade, ones decorated with stars and sequined flags. Why? I think as I watch my girls grow and watch our community grow, I’ve become more enthusiastic about what America means to me. As I watch the parade each year, I am also grateful for our country. I know that we are who we are because of the land where we live. I know this in a personal sense, as a mother of children who have a rich heritage, as a wife happy her husband’s family made it here, as a woman enjoying the opportunities and freedom she would not have in other nations. And I also know this in a larger sense, for the island, for this piece of land in the Pacific Ocean with its tragic past and transforming present. We are who we are because of the land where we live. We are who we are on Bainbridge because we are Americans. Because we are part of the United States, with its history and legacy, with its innovation and creation, with its future and freedom. We can have hope. We can speak. We can agree and disagree. And we can have fun coming together one morning each July, celebrating the diversity of our voices and visions.

Happy Birthday America!

I love you.

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A picture of my daughter’s desk this morning showing her collection of dolls, some with blue eyes and red hair and others with black hair and brown eyes, her clothes to wear to the parade, a flag (inaccurate number of stars though) we made after 9/11 (when we couldn’t find a flag to buy), and her Bible.

Tags: island

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Bob V // Jul 4, 2005 at 12:28 pm

    “Was Columbus corrupt? Did Lincoln care about racism?”

    Hi Julie, I remember your reviews of your readings a summer ago about this. While these are important questions, I suspect that academic historians are ignoring the context within which these people operated in.

    Leaders do not always lead. They must also adapt, bend, fold, supplicate, and embarass themselves. This is particularly true of political leaders. Such leaders oftentimes direct a nation in the same way a conductor directs a train. He or she may be able to speed up or slow down, but short of a derailment, the train will go where it must go.

    In the case of Columbus, his men’s abuses of the natives were standard, unquestioned practice at the time. While he did not perform better than the other explorers of his time, he did no worse. While we now know the standards of the time were lacking, he did follow standards.

    Lincoln faced a highly segmented public. He did not manage anything close ta a majority of the country’s votes. As it turned out, half the country wasn’t even interested in remaining a country. And yet, in the heat of war, he found the time and the imperative to sign the Emacipation Proclamation. Even if his ultimate priority was to preserve the union of states, he did as much to help end slavery as any other figure of the time.

    Context matters.

  • 2 Lei // Jul 5, 2005 at 9:28 am

    What a meaningful post, Julie. I also learned a lot from Bob V’s comment.

  • 3 Katherine // Jul 10, 2005 at 8:34 am

    Great post, Julie. I loved it. Especially interesting to read from over here in France, having just moved here and missed celebrating the U.S. holiday by 5 days.