“Happy 4th of July!” It’s what I’m hearing, reading, and seeing all over the place today. I’m in Portland and people are getting ready for fireworks, barbecues, a shameless consumption of copious amounts of meat and booze, flag waving, and rejoicing for being an American. They’re hyped to celebrate being born in the world’s best country EVER.
Is this really what Independence Day is supposed to be about? All of these things bring into mind stereotypes that I’ve heard over and over again during my travels- the obnoxious, ignorant, obese, McDonalds-loving, arrogant American. And you know what? So many people from the US don’t realize that they’re not the only Americans. From Canadians to Tierra del Fuego-dwelling Argentineans, and everyone else in between, we are ALL Americans. But within these 50 states, we are United Stateseans.
I have a deeply complicated relationship with the country in which I was born. It’s so complex that saying it’s a love-hate thing would just be too damn simple. I am not a patriot. I want what’s best for this country, but I want the same for every other country, too. As a self-proclaimed world citizen, the ties I have to this land are family, friends, and documents saying that it is legal for me to live and work here. That’s about it. I am not loyal to the United States because I have no reason to be. To be sure, I acknowledge and am deeply grateful for the resources and opportunities that growing up in California allowed me, but that is not to say that I couldn’t have had the same fortune elsewhere. It’s also not to say that I don’t realize growing up in a less economically powerful country would have made my life’s journey much different.
239 years ago, when the Declaration of Independence was signed, and 13 colonies established their autonomy, closing the door on Great Britain, a new nation was born. This wasn’t without a great deal of bloodshed and dehumanization of the land’s natives- all the stuff public schools won’t tell you about these heroic ancestors. It wasn’t without slaughter, rape, and enslavement. It was Machiavellian in its means to an end. And while I strongly disagree with how the US was colonized, I recognize something in its creation that I identify with: the urge to be free from oppression and to create one’s own life rules. The independence of this young nation had to do with the vision that would become the American Dream. It had nothing to do with hamburgers, hot dogs, or bacchanalia.
What exactly is the American Dream? Everyone has some sort of take on it, but here is mine: The American Dream is the freedom of speech. It’s the ability to say whatever the fuck I want to, because I am a human being with hopes, passions, beliefs, experiences, and knowledge about a thing or two. It’s about making a life for yourself- even being your own boss- and achieving success (whatever that means to you) by working your ass off. It’s about the open road, discovery, and exploration. It’s about building things to last- because why buy 10 cars/ovens/pairs of jeans in 10 years when you only need one? It’s about honesty and taking pride in what you do. It’s about treating others how you want to be treated. It’s about creating a unique sense of individuality while maintaining a solid community. It’s about following your dreams- no matter if you want to be an artist, an engineer, or a doctor. If you want something with all of your soul, you can put your every last breath into it and something beautiful will materialize.
When I think of the American Dream, my mind wanders to an era I never knew. It ponders the industrial epoch when Detroit, Michigan flourished with its production of Ford cars. It drifts to the Beat Generation writers, like Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and William S. Burroughs, deciding after the Korean War that domesticity wasn’t for them, and so they took to the road, writing their guts out in stream-of-consciousness prose. It hears the lyrics of Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, and the Grateful Dead, crying out for peace, political awareness, and love. It sees reels of footage from Woodstock, from protests of the Vietnam War in the 1960s. It reminisces the pages detailing Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters’ experiences on the Magic Bus- not necessarily because of their LSD misadventures, but because of their fervor to push the limits of their minds and of the status quo. Perhaps, the American Dream was alive and well anywhere from the 1950s to the 1970s. But I was born in the early ’80s, so maybe this concept is more of a romantic illusion than anything real to me.
The American Dream is dead. Just like rock and roll, bibliophiles, quality, and trust. They all went flying out the window of our hypothetical 1967 Ford Mustang that now sits in a landfill amidst defunct microwaves, laptops, washing machines, and other metal crap that no longer have a place in this world. Instead, we now live in a world where human beings are being replaced with drones and robots, where hard work gets you nowhere unless you’re exploiting people by the dozens, where you ask machines to solve your problems, where social media feeds tell you what’s trending- and thereby important- in current events. We are figuratively running in circles while we literally sit at the computer for hours, banging away at keys that don’t care for us instead of turning to the faces of people who do. We’re getting nowhere. While I remain nostalgic for a time I never knew, and maintain a small shard of hope that technology, politics, and big money won’t be our ultimate self-destruction, I admit that perhaps this American Dream was just that all along- a big, fat, fucking Disney-inspired illusion.
Call me a pessimist if you will; I don’t care. (Yes, that is very “American” of me.) But I will not be celebrating the 4th of July tonight. I don’t believe in it. There is so much hypocrisy and dirty laundry this world-policing, discriminatory, greedy, consumption-hungry, ignorant “land of the free” hides that there is nothing left to commemorate, only lament. So if you see me pouring a drink, know that it is not to toast to what is, but in hopes for what this country may eventually become.
Happy fucking 4th. Oh yeah, and at least do yourself a favor and eat a veggie dog instead.