Independence Days

My first Bastille Day — actually in France it’s called La Fête Nationale,  (the National Celebration) or more commonly le quatorze juillet (the fourteenth of July) — left me with an eerie feeling of nostalgia.  I went out into the crowded streets of Perpignan with my American friends ready to experience all the fun of the French holiday of independence.  Children were squealing with glee as they ran to mount their favorite animal on the lighted carousel.  I shared a copious amount of pink cotton candy with my girlfriends before we bought childish glow-in-the-dark hats and swords.  We danced past language barriers with chubby children and elderly grandmothers to the music of big brass bands.  The spirit of the holiday had no age limit and continued on late into the night.

The warm summer night reminded me of the American Independence Days I spent in my childhood home of Clovis, California.  Clovis can best be described as a conservative, deeply nationalistic cowboy town.  The town is best known for its annual rodeos and old-town saloons.  From what I hear, Clovis is the epitome of the stereotypical American small town.  I remember my all-time favorite 4th of July outfit.  My aunt had bought me a jean skirt and top ensemble with scads of rhinestones and glitter and a white cowgirl hat. To my 8-year-old Dances With Wolves-obsessed mind, this outfit was as coveted as a Versace ball gown.  I spent that night picnicking with my family, eating cool watermelon and fried chicken, while we waited for the fireworks to begin at the local high school.  When the red, white and blue fireworks filled the air, the finale was accompanied by the blasting song “I’m Proud to be an American” by Lee Greenwood. I was convinced that America was the best country in the world.  I had never felt so American.

Thirteen years later, I have an entirely different idea of nationalism and what it means to be from the United States. As I watched the red, white and blue fireworks fill the summer air in the South of France these feelings were solidified. The celebration was eerily similar to the independence days back home. I saw in the people around me that same sense of pride I had felt as a child. Although nationalism often causes tension between nations, I felt a sense of unity when I witnessed these similarities. Pride for your country is not unique to the United States, and neither is a day of celebrating independence. Although I missed out on Fourth of July this year, I felt no remorse. Bastille Day has the fireworks, good eats and welcoming joy of any nation’s independence day.