The 4th of July is more than BBQs and parades

The 4th of July is my favorite holiday. Fresh corn slathered with butter, burgers a’grillin’, tomatoes, ice cream, and anyone who mentions carbs gets sent skyward attached to a bottle rocket.

It’s a day when it is politically correct to be shamelessly patriotic. You can show the flag, wear your American Legion cap, and pledge allegiance to God and country without Michael Moore making a docu-drama about you.

It is a day when families get together to celebrate the birth of this great nation. It is a day when Americans show how neighborly they are as they come together at block parties outdoing each other with their best food and best manners. Best of all they leave behind the differences that pull us apart until it appears we’re coming apart at the seams. After September 11, 2001 we set aside our petty bickering and became united as our name – “United States” implies.

Then time passed. Slowly we drifted back to our old ways where in the middle of 2013, as a nation, we may be more divided than we’ve even been. We’re back to our political, petty, distrustful, selfish selves. We’ve settled into a familiar complacency and discontent, once more exhibiting a lot of pluribus and not much unum. We are 237 years old this year. I’m wondering whether we’ll see 240 or 250. Not because of attacks from without but from our tendency to implode when there is no major crisis to test our unity.

We are a much divided country where the people in the Blue States don’t trust the people in the Red States. One side sees the other as gun slinging, bible-thumping corn-fed yahoos; while the other sees their political opponents as elitist “America is always wrong,” anti-gun, anti-God, hell bent on turning the country into a bigger welfare state than it already is. The last presidential election was so contentious it slithered into a mudslinging slop-opera.

Once we were the “Great Melting Pot”. Now we are a hyphenated nation with a national identity crisis. My background is Italian. Both sets of grandparents emigrated from the old country.  Yet, I don’t think of myself as an Italian-American.  Don’t get me wrong, I am proud of my heritage, but it has little to do with who I am today, aside from my belief that pizza is the perfect health food. Italian accomplishments in the arts and sciences are indisputable. Yet I can no more take credit for the genius of Michelangelo and Galileo than I can accept the blame for the degradations of Mussolini and Capone. To quote that great sailor-philosopher, Popeye the sailor man,  “I yam what I yam.”

It is understandable that immigrants want their places of origin to be recognized and remembered and to keep alive the traditions that made them who they are. So let us celebrate being African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Mexican-Americans and all the hyphenated ethnicities that make up our population.

But at some point don’t we have to become full-time   American Americans? We don’t live in the United-hyphenStates of America. We became a nation when the colonies were able to restrain their individualism and work towards the common goal of freedom.

I remember the first time I saw the Viet Nam Memorial in Washington. I watched people searching the black marble for a name, scanning the wall with their fingers as if they were braille readers. Suddenly they would find a name and surrender to their grief, some falling to their knees weeping while their fingers caressed the letters in their loved one’s name. I felt like an intruder eavesdropping on their suffering. I had to avert my eyes and leave the area.  The Viet Nam Memorial is not divided into sections for service people with hyphenated names representing various national origins. It is a memorial to more than 50,000 Americans who gave their last full measure.

When you see the Stars and Stripes flying from a building or being displayed in a parade to honor our country, hold your hand over your heart and be thankful you are living here in freedom, regardless of your background. Be proud that many of the people who made the sacrifices to insure our freedom share your ethnicity. Acknowledge them. Cherish your shared heritage. Wear a smile. Look at Old Glory. Search out that common thread among her stars and stripes. Grasp it. Pull it tightly. And at least for the weekend think about extending the boundaries of our neighborhoods until they stretch from sea to shining sea.

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