To paraphrase Frederick Douglass, what does the Fourth of July mean to me? As a kid it was all food and fireworks, and to a large extent remains so today. Through the years, however, more somber thoughts have seeped in. This year, in particular, the Fourth of July is fraught with meaning as Black Lives Matter prompt us all to re-examine our beliefs and biases.
BLM has brought to light “a sad sense of the disparity between us,” as Douglass wrote, and it hurts. It’s important for America to know that it has always hurt.
If you haven’t watched “Hamilton” by now, please do so, for the play underscores ever so lightly the conflict between the Federalists as represented by Alexander Hamilton and the slaveholders as represented by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. In a stunning lack of clarity and imagination, the slaveholders won. America punted.
Fast forward to Puerto Rico, where the Fourth of July is celebrated but not with the fanfare of the states. Puerto Rico, after all, is not really free. Puerto Rico enjoys the dressing of liberty, but Congress completely controls the island at all times, per U.S. Supreme Court decisions and other precedents. The idea of a former colony creating colonies of its own without a hint of irony is an example of another historical moment lacking clarity and imagination. America punted.
In celebrations such as El Día del ELA or Commonwealth Day the firm, steel grip of the U.S. is present. The day is celebrated on July 25, the same day in 1898 that U.S. troops landed in Guánica, Puerto Rico, and the same day that 50 years later people in power chose to enact the modern-day commonwealth. Whose idea was that? It was a way to appease the American overlords who absolutely required some form of obeisance to contradict the colonial message of that day.
Will America punt today, in this moment of Black Lives Matter? I hope not. The American Revolution and the Civil War are the nation’s unfinished business. The South and all its racial transgressions won both times as politicians punted, wondering how to get the buy-in of the South. It was an easy way out rather than confront hard, painful truths about enslavement and second-class citizenship.
And yet, the Fourth of July is still a day for making memories. My best memory of the Fourth is a trip me, my mom, and 2 year-old daughter took to New York City. I rented a car because we would later drive to the D.C. area.
We left on the morning of the Fourth of July. We crossed the Hudson River and as we looked back at the gray smoke and smog of the Big Apple, we listened to a reading of the Declaration of Independence over the radio. Powerful if unfulfilled words creating an indelible moment as the three of us sped south.
˜˜María Padilla, Editor