JULY 4th makes me think about fireworks, hot dogs, beers, bomb pops, and sparklers.
For 26 years I spent my Fourth of July indulging in at least one of these five things. But when I was 27 I spent the holiday in Barcelona, Spain. And at 28, I will be spending it on Vancouver Island in Canada. My independence day has changed and so have my feelings about America.
I’ve never considered myself a patriot and I am definitely not as egocentric as most Europeans assume all Americans are. Last July in Barcelona, and all over Europe that summer, I heard the same thing: “You don’t seem American.” I was never too sure what to make of that, so I pressed by asking, “Why?” or “How do you mean?” The answers were often insulting to my home country.
I didn’t use the word “like” every other word. I didn’t sound dumb. I knew something about history. I knew something about the world. I could carry on a conversation. I wasn’t fat.
Those were the answers I got.
As I got to meet more people and experience new cultures and countries, I understood a lot of what they were saying better. They knew about America’s history and government, more than I often did myself, but they also knew about the governments of Australia and Japan and China and the Philippines and some tiny island off of India. The word “like” was not present in their perfect English. They didn’t sound dumb and they asked direct questions if they were confused. And, to be honest, everyone I met was in decent to great shape.
I learned a lot about myself and got an outsider’s view of the country I grew up in. I also believe I changed some of their views of Americans by carrying myself well and being open to discussion. Most importantly, by the end of the summer I did not sheepishly say “I am American” anymore. I said it confidently and I let my personality and intelligence as a person come through. If it convinced them of something about where I am from, then I’m glad. But I’m also not ashamed of where I come from or the passport I carry (although several border agents and train conductors tried to make me feel inadequate for that).
Spending time out of the country has shown me that I am proud of roots I didn’t fully notice I had until I left. I am proud of the education I earned (even though it cost me more than just about anywhere else in the world) and the opportunities I had provided for me. I am glad that I had the desire to leave home to explore other places and see how and what they are doing better than us. I am thankful that I see the ways we are doing it well. I am incredibly thankful for Trader Joe’s cookie butter and Whole Foods’ bulk food section. I like watching my HBO Go, listening to Pandora, and cheering for the Buffalo Bills. And I don’t particularly care whether those statements make me sound dumb or American.
Last year I forgot it was the Fourth of July. I went to dinner with a group of people in Barcelona and one man at the table asked me, “Why was there someone running around naked wrapped in an American flag in the park today? You Americans are so weird!” and I laughed before realizing, and explaining, that it was our independence day. In response, a table of ten sang their best Spanish-accented rendition of America’s National Anthem for me. No judgement, just an understanding that I might be missing home a little bit. We all know what it means to be from somewhere, and to be away from it, too.
This year, I’ll enjoy some of my typical Fourth of July memorabilia on a beach in Tofino with a bunch of Canadians. Not everyone is lucky enough to spend so much time out of their home country or to love where they come from. I am glad my Independence Days have always been spent in good company, no matter where I am. You won’t ever catch me wearing my flag as a dress or arguing I’m from the best place in the world, because I don’t believe the world comes down to a flag or a country.
But, as it turns out, I am proud to be an American.