I awakened to dove gray skies and the sweet scent of falling rain. Soaking in the greening of a fully leafed out forest and the stillness of early dawn felt like a gift because these quiet moments are precious and precarious on the weekend Americans celebrate ‘Independence Day’.
As a person with mixed heritage (Passamaquoddy) I am not one of those people. Indigenous peoples of the Americas have nothing to embrace on this weekend. We are still invisible; we are still discriminated against. We are still outsiders.
Along with the emphasis on Black Lives Matter I often wonder why Red people are not included in the current cultural outrage. These are the people who were deliberately poisoned with smallpox, and also murdered and herded onto reservations by the colonists who took over this once wild and untrammeled country, systematically destroying its beauty by slaughtering the trees and animals that once grew into stately giants or roamed free. Why would Indigenous peoples or any other minority celebrate an Independence Day that occurred at their expense?
So who does this secular celebration really serve? Why, some white people, of course. The same very violent Europeans that denied the Original Peoples of this country their right to be. I say some because many Caucasians are peace loving – animal activists, naturalists, conservationists, writers, artists and ordinary people including war veterans, who know what deafening explosions can do to the human body, or to animals, wild and tame. Unpredictable noise activates PTSD, mindless terror takes over the body invading every cell activating other illnesses as well. Most abhor this holiday.
I remember as a child being excited by the 4th of July. No one spoke of what we were celebrating but my father loved fireworks and so my little brother and I were given hand held sparklers to wave around that imitated the fireflies that sailed through my grandparents’ field communicating messages by blinking their lemon yellow and emerald green lights. My father was in charge of the Roman ‘candles’ that lit up the night with sprays of brilliant flowers…Firecrackers were non – existent.
In retrospect I think my Italian father probably had a genuine attachment to this holiday because he came to this country when he was twelve years old as the oldest male, one of six children. I don’t remember when I heard the story of his family steaming into New York Harbor on a ship whose name I wish I could remember, but when I did I understood why seeing the Statue of Liberty moved him so deeply. My father’s family was very poor; they immigrated to this country to find a “better life”. Although financially very successful I am not sure if my father would have said that he found what he was looking for. He surrendered his heritage to become an American.
Growing up with an Italian name that no one could pronounce led to ridicule in school, and I learned to be ashamed of my Italian background not just in academia but because members of my own family including my own mother made fun of Italians even mocking my father’s birth name – Mario – which he later changed.
In school as a small child I was named Princess Running Water by my classmates because I had inherited the high cheekbones that characterize the Native side of my mother’s family. Ironically, the truth of my Indigenous background was hidden from me because it was ‘a skeleton in the closet’.
The point I am making is that my mixed heritage left me dealing with discrimination long before I knew what the word meant.
At 76 I understand why I have always felt like an outsider in the country I call my home, although my love for nature reminds me daily that for me, this earth is beloved.
I think it was about 20 years ago that I began to associate the 4th of July with violence of all kinds. Repeated studies have shown that more people are assaulted, raped and murdered during the hot summer months than at any other time of year. When I first read some of these academic papers I recognized that they mirrored the human behavior I was witnessing as a teacher and a feminist. Aggressive men in revved up trucks spewing black smoke and screaming motorcycles tore down country roads making it impossible to walk in safety or relative peace. Four wheelers rumbled through once peaceful woods. Bullying was on the rise in the schools and with ones own neighbors, as was the insistence upon individuals having “rights” at all costs (to the detriment of the rights of others human and non human). Gun violence was becoming normalized. When fireworks were legalized the 4th of July celebration lost the last of its meaning because now gun blasts and fireworks (bombs bursting in air…) could be heard any night all summer long when some guy had a fight with his wife, got drunk – or worse.
In 2021 violence and divisiveness have become a way of life for Americans in general as gun deaths soar and hatred intensifies towards any group that threatens white supremacy. Genuine community is dead.
In my opinion, the 4th of July has become a time to mourn.
Sara is a naturalist, ethologist (a person who studies animals in their natural habitats) (former) Jungian Pattern Analyst, and a writer. She publishes her work regularly in a number of different venues and is presently living in Maine.