The Fourth of July (or the Second of July, if we're being historically accurate), is a holiday with a seemingly uncomplicated purpose: to come together and celebrate the United States' independence. The people who fought for freedom from Britain in the 18th century were known as patriots, a category that has evolved to include a much wider set of people and beliefs in a country that has become home to more than 329 million people.
For this year's Independence Day, Pacific Standard is re-examining some past stories that highlight various expressions of patriotism and American identity, from the traditional to the naked.
How I Cheated My Way Into Arlington National Cemetery
In this personal essay, historian Jacqui Shine recalls her participation in the wreath laying at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery–an experience she was granted because her mother wrote and won an essay contest in her name. From this, Shine draws an important conclusion about half-hearted participation in patriotic rituals that ultimately influenced her life path.
I've come to understand that when we participate in expressions of patriotism we don't understand, they ring hollow, whether we do it because it's what our mothers wanted or what we think our forefathers wanted. It's either ironic or entirely appropriate that I became an historian, and a U.S. historian at that: I've devoted my life to trying to understand the stories we tell about this country and the rituals of grief and celebration we conduct.
Marvin Gaye and the Unlikely Patriotism of Resistance
Hanif Abdurraqib writes this powerful essay about celebrating America in the wake of racism, violence, and oppression within its borders, drawing parallels between his lived experience and our country as Marvin Gaye would have seen it in the 1970s.
Celebrating while still fighting perhaps represents the ethos of this country more than anything else. To bear witness to so much death that could easily be your own is to rush toward re-defining what it is to be a patriot in this country. It is even to rush toward re-defining "country" as a place where there both pride and safety are possible, at the same time, for all people.
How the American Dream Went From Meaning Equality to Meaning Capitalism
In an interview with Brandon Tensley, literary scholar Sarah Churchman examines the evolving meanings of the phrases "American Dream" and "America First." President Donald Trump invoked the latter—a term that guided American domestic and foreign policy throughout the 20th century—in his inaugural address as his patriotic vision for governing this country. Churchman calls on people to reject this phrase, and dissects its anti-Semitic, white nationalist origins.
It's crucial that people using "America first," who think that it's just patriotic, are aware of the fact that it has a very dark history. I hope that at least some of them might reconsider their support of it, and their idea and their argument that it's an innocent phrase, because the history is anything but innocent.
'This Is a Book I Wish I Had Growing Up': Malaka Gharib on Living Between Cultures
Tanya Paperny interviews journalist and author Malaka Gharib about her debut graphic memoir, I Was Their American Dream. Among other topics, Gharib discusses the absence of narratives that reflected her multicultural, first-generation American upbringing and the pervasive anti-immigrant rhetoric in the news that drew her to write this book.
I was obsessed with American Girl dolls, but I just didn't see my story reflected in them. I grew up trying to emulate people that I thought I had to emulate. I wish someone had just told me, "Your story is so normal, and here's a book about it!"
America's Most Patriotic Bike Ride Is Also Its Most Naked
Sheila Regan writes about one of Minneapolis' annual Fourth of July traditions: the Freedom From Pants bike ride, in which cyclists forgo typical workout clothes in favor of red, white, and blue swimwear, underwear, and even pasties. This event, Regan writes, represents a personal exercise in liberation as much as a celebration of our country's.
For people like [Larry] Miller, Freedom From Pants is, for all its frivolity, an earnest celebration of America. "As long as we are not being destructive, we can express ourselves and be in celebration," Miller says. "I think that's part of what America should be about: being able to express yourself and enjoy yourself even if that's a little crazy."