I spent some time last night with my Dad watching Texas Ranger baseball on the TV. He’s been around for more than 90 of the U.S.’s 235 years, and he’s loved baseball for as long as I can remember. He was born when flappers were all the rage; came into adulthood right after the great depression and just before the second World War.
¿Que van a hacer para el cuatro? he asked – what are you doing for the fourth? I think he was angling for some barbecue.
Truth be told? The Fourth has never been a premeditated holiday for me, anything I do will be off-the-cuff. Everything I need is there for the celebrating: a reason, a day off, a grill if I so choose. In many towns across the country there’ll be parades, a staple of the day along with the fireworks (except in my part of Texas where fireworks are banned because the grass is crunchy-dry and prone to catch fire). Mostly, people will do what they will today; it is, after all, a day to celebrate independence – in Minnesota a group of crazies celebrate with a bike ride in their underwear. Who are we to judge an expression of patriotism? Any other day they might be detained (in certain states, asked for their papers), but today it’s allowed because at it’s core the celebration of independence is a celebration of an idea born out of imperfection.
The men who sat to cobble the nation 235 years ago had the highest ideals of mankind in mind – yet they were slaveholders, and their wives and daughters were not given the right to vote. A dozen years later, when the U.S. Constitution was written and ratified, they made sure include among it’s purposes the need to form a more perfect union. They knew there was work to be done, and we’ve been at it ever since.
We have the freedom to do better, so it’s a choice. We differ, among ourselves, about what “better” should look like. Hot dogs with borracho beans and salsa is an improvement I think. But there are no guarantees aside from the ones spelled out in the Constitution – it’s not supposed to be easy.
We’re in the midst of a fierce debate about what it means to be American; we argue about how best to educate our children and prepare for our future; we bicker about our national debt and how to proceed in a world fraught with danger; but the the idea is the same.
The Fourth of July is a U.S. celebration, but it’s a universal concept. People have come to this country for more than two centuries compelled by the ideas we celebrate today. They didn’t get them as part of a welcoming package when they arrived; they aren’t found in different measures depending on where they came from; they aren’t understood any more or less depending on race or religion.
¿Que van a hacer para el cuatro?
Throw a hot dog on the grill con salsa, take a bike ride in your undies – the idea, though, is to make it better.
Follow Victor Landa on Twitter: @vlanda
[Photo by Jeff Kubina]