While I realize that only a percentage of beijingkids’ expat readers are American, I can’t let today pass without a nod to its special significance: July 4, or Independence Day in the US. People from across all 50 states will celebrate with parades, barbecues, red, white and blue everything, flag waving, and fireworks (although not to the deafening degree of Chinese fireworks).
It’s a huge holiday for Americans, rich in history and tradition. Like many other holidays, the true meaning sometimes gets lost in the hubbub of the celebrations – but what I discovered is how the meaning truly gets lost on my expat children.
A drive through a small town in southern Indiana illustrated this point. Some of the July 4 decorations on display included a wind-blown Uncle Sam, which I pointed out to my girls. "Who’s Uncle Sam?" was their question, to which I thought, "OK, it’s time for a history lesson."
We are in North Carolina for this leg of our summer holiday, and today we will enjoy a great celebration with my sister and her family on King’s Mountain. Years ago, a decisive battle during the American Revolutionary War was fought here. Every year, on the Fourth of July, there is a re-enactment – complete with period costumes and the firing of blank guns and cannons. Families and friends will gather to listen to live bands, watch a parade, eat food and enjoy the national holiday together, concluding with a fantastic fireworks display set to music.
My girls were quite young when we moved to China, and both have gotten to the point where they are more familiar with China than America. They take the US Studies program offered by the US Embassy’s AEA during the school year just to become acquainted with what I sometimes take for granted. Having taught that class to fifth and sixth graders one year, it was eye-opening to discover that many of the American students did not know the Pledge of Allegiance or the meaning behind common national symbols.
Really, it’s not their fault. People my age grew up repeating the National Anthem in school every morning, or having to take a mandatory course on US History and similar topics. Here, the international schools have so many countries represented in their student bodies, it’d be nearly impossible to cover everyone’s needs. So, they don’t. And we as families are called upon to remember that this is ultimately our job while we are away from our home countries.
So, I’m really happy to be in the states during July 4. Instead of just talking about what the holiday means to Americans, my girls can see it for themselves and learn along the way. They’ll wear their t-shirts displaying American pride and enjoy some of the traditions that would be par for the course if we were living here. Maybe they won’t be completely versed in US history, but celebrating the country’s birthday is certainly a start.
Happy Fourth of July, America!
Photo by Charlotte Moreau