For the first time in my life I was invited to walk in the American 4th of July parade, the American Independence Day. The invitation was sent from the Rim to Rim hiking group, with whom I enjoy hiking when in America.
I couldn’t possibly say no, though decades living in Denmark had cautioned me about anything nationalistic. Yet I admire Americans’ love of parades, shows of emotions, pompous rhetoric about “Make America great again” and civil religion. The latter is expressed, for example, in presidential speeches ending with “God bless America”. Last week President Trump even held a rather religion-filled speech to the veterans declaring, “We don’t worship government, we worship God”; a statement, I, as a visiting alien, wholeheartedly share.
Later I was also invited to join the Nordic Pine Lodge of Sons of Norway’s float dressed like a Viking. The organizers promised to provide Viking helmets and tunics, so that I would not need to bring my own attire. I have good memories from a couple of parties with the Sons of Norway, but as a daughter of non-Viking Finland, I found it more appropriate to stick to the hiking group.
The same day I was also invited, through the hiking group, to join a demonstration on July 2, to support undocumented immigrants working at hotels in Flagstaff. In my 20s I attended many demonstrations and loved marching together with people concerned about social justice issues. But I also learnt it can be both useless and dangerous to attend demonstrations, especially outside of one’s own country. However, to share knowledge about this issue I hereby attach a link to a short film that came with the invitation:
On the 4th of July morning, I dressed in hiking clothes and biked to downtown to meet the rest of the hiking float, before nine. Police cars blocked many streets and I ended up parking my bike far away. Walking along the carless streets, I saw thousands of residents sitting on camping chairs under canopies, party tents and parasols. It looked like many had arrived early to get the best spots and were now enjoying their breakfast sandwiches. Most people had dressed in the colors of the American flag and decorated even their babies and dogs with small, 3-colored hats, scarves or leis made of blue, red and white silk paper.
There were more than 100 different floats: staff from the local hospital, different departments of the city administration, many companies, interest organizations, and charities. My best guess is that probably one third of the 70 000 residents had met up either to walk in the parade or watch it.
I enjoyed walking with the hiking group, and looking at the cheering on-lookers. The atmosphere was relaxed and like a show. People were smiling, laughing and wishing each other “happy independence day”. In comparison, the Finnish Independence Day celebration on the 6th of December is more like a respectful but solemn funeral. The time of the year of course contributes to the big difference too…
It did not take much time to walk the kilometer long parade route. Afterwards people started filling cafes and restaurants. I went for a coffee at Kickstand with some of the hikers from our float. Later when I was dragging my bike on the sidewalk of one of the main streets, I saw some other hiking buddies at the Tinderbox courtyard and joined them for a couple of beers.
Having a couple of beers in baking sunshine heat, before noon was not a great idea. Biking home in this condition was somewhat of an unstable experience. I spent the afternoon and most of the evening resting on my luxurious queen-size bed watching independence parades in Washington D.C., Boston and in various other big cities. In Washington they had constructed a large scene in front of the congress building. The Beach Boys, my favorites from the ‘70s, performed there as well as many other artists.
When darkness fell on the east coast, several hours before Arizona, the television started showing endless, magical fireworks. I might have napped at some point of time, because it seemed that the same kinds of firework patterns were repeating themselves. Or maybe fireworks are like music with a main theme and various side themes.
My feeling from the day was that the American Independence Day unites Americans across party lines for at least one day. All people I spoke with during the day and heard discussing on the television appeared to understand that American patriotism does not exclude the rest of the world. Americans can simultaneously be proud of their own country’ history and include other citizens of the world. It reminded me of the less quoted sentence from John F. Kennedy’s inaugural speech:” My fellow citizens of the world, ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.”