What it Feels Like to Celebrate Independence Day When You’re Not American

No matter where we are from, holidays are appreciated everywhere. And July 4th in the USA is no different: you get to eat hamburgers and hot dogs, fire up the grill, tan, sip on beer, smoke weed, whatever it is you want to do, this day is here to accommodate. However, whether you are American or not, a patriotic holiday is always a complex issue: does celebrating the 4th mean you stand by what your country has done, or what it stands for? In times of turmoil like these, it feels somewhat hard to be patriotic. And it’s even harder for those who had moved to America from someplace else. 

“As an international student, celebrating the 4th of July is definitely an interesting experience,” says Paola Vacirca, a 21 year old NYU student, originally from Italy. “In Italy, we have a national day, June 2nd, but people don’t celebrate it nearly as much or go as hard as people do in America.” 

Paola said that, on the one hand, she likes Independence Day because it’s endearing to see Americans celebrate their country and to be so proud of being American; however, she mostly considers the festivities extreme: “Most people just go way over the top, and simply use it as an excuse to party. I was watching tv last night, and people are already dying trying to set up fireworks. It’s only the 3rd! There definitely needs to be a balance and more chill. I like the Italian way better.”

She has a point. It’s no secret that Americans will often go overboard when it comes to patriotism, and celebrating their own country. And especially in troubled times like the ones we live in at the moment, to some a celebration of American values feels distasteful.

“The 4th of July is definitely an interesting experience for me, as a brown man in America,” says Johaan Abraham, originally from Malaysia. “It reminds me of Frederick Douglass, and his quote ‘The Fourth of July is yours, not mine’. And the concept of freedom, which is so powerfully expressed on days like the Fourth, for someone like me, who wants to build his life from scratch here, is one that is hard to believe in. It feels hypocritical. As a brown man, I do not have the same freedom.”

For internationals, Independence Day is most certainly a strange holiday to grapple with: but it all depends on how you decide to celebrate it. It can be a day of pure joy, solely about your friends and your loved ones, as you barbecue away, sip on some ice cold beer, or get high by the pool with those you care about.

Emerald contributor since July 2019

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