I stay in one of the most diverse neighborhoods of San Francisco and for the past two weeks I have witnessed activities pointing towards a celebratory mood of the people. Two weeks ago, I got to be reminded of the 4th of July by flying pennants and banners at homes, corner stores and an occasional person with a flag draped over the upper body part. People were preparing themselves for the fourth.
Fast forward, on this day, I happened to take a long stroll around my neighborhood. A barbecue here, popping fireworks there, more excitement, people wishing each other "happy fourth," more happy fourths exchanged and more merriment to boot.
The ability for neighborhoods to be venues for celebrating independence and for homes to take charge and be able to conduct homemade events in regard to the fourth reminded me of a contrast between USA and Uganda. I am a Ugandan-born American and have seen both worlds of what it means to celebrate independence.
|Happy 4th of July (USA)|
|Happy October 9th (Uganda)|
In Uganda, where I was born, I realized independence celebrations remain the reserve of the government in power. The mentality of a leader-prophet who knows it all is pervasive. The government sponsors an event and only invitees attend. Security check points are a must. The opposition is not invited or if invited it is the moderate ones who restrain themselves from making any comment against the sitting government in public. Thus, the celebrations become a platform to list the achievements reached and an opportunity to lump the opposition into refuse destined for disposal. Aggrandizement takes centre stage. The opposition which is never invited also holds 'shadow' celebrations and castigates the sitting government in a manner laced with wistful remarks. The communities have long since done away with burning car-tyres amidst road junctions. The government had to do a lot of messages and police had to apprehend culprits until people changed.
In USA, the communities are allowed to take charge. Independence is so many things. It is the barbecue, the fireworks, the events at community and national level. Most of all it is symbolized by the turkey. Independence is like a meal served at table. Food is so central to independence in USA. In fact, it is said the first fourth of July is when Native Americans shared the little food they had kept to take them through the harsh winters with the pioneers who founded present day USA. The tradition has been kept and that is how it is handed down the subsequent generations.
As I write this popping sounds and blinding light threaten to shutter ears and blind eyes. I see people moving back and forth happily sharing experiences. Independence is yet another opportunity to bind the Americans together. For me, it is a chance to witness belief in ownership of destiny and autonomy from individual to national levels.