Category Archives: Independence Day

They’re Coming to America

“Free, only want to be free, We huddle close, Hang on to a dream.” 

America by Neil Diamond

There’s no shortage of patriotic music today, July 4.  From God Bless America sung by Kate Smith to America by Simon and Garfunkle,  America the Beautiful by Ray Charles, God Bless the USA by Lee Greenwood, I’ve heard songs all day in honor of our nation’s birthday.  It’s part of the enjoyment that is the 4th of July, the quintessential holiday in our country.  But there was one song that stopped me and caught my breath as I listened to it.   It was America by Neil Diamond.  Both the music and the lyrics are powerful, which is why the song became so popular when originally released.  But today the words hit hard, and rang with an ironic twist that, frankly, pulled some of the energy out of the day.

On the boats and on the planes
They’re coming to America
Never looking back again,
They’re coming to America.

Yes, thousands flock to our country on boats and planes, but many also reach our borders for their dreams on foot.  The Mexican border holds thousands in detention at present, and not just in waiting for legal processing for possible admission to the U.S., but in separation from children, spouses, and in cell-like detention for indeterminate periods of time.  Those realities don’t quite match the drama and grandeur of Diamond’s song.  I guess things have changed.

Don’t it seem so far away
Oh, we’re traveling light today
In the eye of the storm
In the eye of the storm

Immigrants coming to America today find themselves in the eye of the storm of a different sort.  The pride of Americans embracing their role as the “melting pot” of the world has faded these days, replaced by a storm of blame, suspicion, racism, and even hatred.  It has not helped to have a political leader who has fanned the flames of those reactions and re-shaped the notion of immigration from a beautiful dream to a horrible nightmare.

To a new and a shiny place
Make our bed and we’ll say our grace
Freedom’s light burning warm
Freedom’s light burning warm

And suddenly it makes a difference to whom you are praying for your suppertime grace.  Some in this land of all faiths now want to know the nature of one’s spirituality so that interpretations can be made and aspersions cast, often in the densest of understanding.  Freedom’s light burning warm becomes ever cooler to the touch.

Everywhere around the world
They’re coming to America
Ev’ry time that flag’s unfurled
They’re coming to America

It’s true that the American dream resonates everywhere in the world, because we have exhibited some of the visions to which all human beings aspire: freedom, choice, participation, pursuit of happiness.  In recent times, though, it would appear as if we vastly preferred those coming from Norway.  Something about looking like more of us than those in detention on the border.

Got a dream to take them there
They’re coming to America
Got a dream they’ve come to share
They’re coming to America

The dreams driving today’s immigrant populations are no different than those of generations before.  They come for opportunity.  They come to escape persecution.  They come for freedom of thought and expression.  In years past, some even came because they perceived opportunities to lie, cheat, steal and break the law with impunity.  But the U.S. figured that the good that came through our doors far outweighed the inevitable bad that is a part of our human reality.

My country ’tis of thee (today)
Sweet land of liberty (today)
Of thee I sing (today)
Of thee I sing
Today, Today, Today
Today, today, today……

Today, we celebrate our country as we have every year on July 4.  There is much in which we take pride, and rightfully so.  Our stories are mythic and powerful and full of the promise of what our future can be.  I had a joyous day with family.

Or at least until I shed a tear upon hearing Neil Diamond sing about coming to America today….

Dependence Day

I guess I’m in the mood for musing about national holidays.  I had some nagging thoughts about Memorial Day this year, and now with the passing of July 4 I find myself reflecting about Independence Day and it meanings.  I just can’t seem to simply enjoy a national celebration, some time off, fireworks and burgers on the grill like I used to.

Actually, I love the Fourth of July even more than Memorial Day.  It marks the very center of summer, a time when those of us in the far northern states can finally step outside without a jacket and long pants and be reasonable assured that frostbite is not a risk.  Like most, I love the notion of freedoms and independence, those twin icons of the United States.  I love the stories which chronicle this country’s birth as a new nation.  But increasingly, I also long for acknowledgement that alongside our national day of celebration of independence, we might do well to establish one that we might call Dependence Day.

I don’t want to throw cold water on a beloved national holiday.  But I also don’t feel right in overlooking how tremendously dependent this nation has been over its history.  Our history might be more truly a celebration of dependence than of single-handed success.

Of course, our earliest settlers might never have even had the opportunity to dream of an independent state had it not been for the assistance of Native American populations, who often helped the transplanted Europeans to survive the new climate and landscape. Even in winning the war of independence itself, the U.S. would perhaps never have prevailed in its efforts without the enormous assistance from countries like France, Spain and The Netherlands.

We proudly describe our nation as a “melting pot” of peoples from the widest range of cultures and geographies, in essence building upon the rich customs and heritage of the entire world in our DNA.  We cherish traditions in the very fabric of our lives which are almost entirely imported from somewhere else.  Oil, that lifeblood of our industrial, military and technology development, has been heavily supplied by other nations.  Foreign trade linkages have long been an essential glue to our economy and our security.  And it turns out that no matter how independent we may feel, the health of the earth’s environment is impacted by all nations, including ours.  And while on the topic of health, we can agree that following the horrifying outbreak of the ebola virus in the past year, we are clearly dependent upon the practices and assistance of other nations when protecting our population.

We have waged war very infrequently (if ever?) by ourselves; the U.S. waged war against its own Indigenous people over the past two centuries, and the war against The Philippines was undertaken alone.  But otherwise, the scores of military actions by the U.S. in its history have been fought with the help of others.  Even our own Civil War included efforts by France, Germany, Hungary and the U.K.  It’s not surprising that nations would not like to go to war alone, both from economic and emotional perspectives.

It turns out that we need lots of help.  Arctic ice reflects sunlight and influences ocean currents to help protect the atmosphere and limit severe weather.  We import more than $2 trillion worth of goods each year from countries around the world. The earth receives more than 20% of its oxygen from The Amazon rain forest.  Of major dependence is our love affair with coffee: Hawaii is the only state which can grow it commercially, and is not even close in supplying our addiction.

I understand the genesis of Independence Day and its meaning to us; I know its importance to me and my life journey, and I am grateful for it each and every day.  I also understand that no one makes the journey entirely alone.  While we celebrate and give thanks for independence, we do so with a knowing nod of gratitude to those outside the U.S. who helped to make it possible….