By Corey Heller
This post originally appeared on July 3rd, 2006 on the blog An American Between Worlds.
That day is here again. The 4th of July has almost arrived and my husband is smiling and gritting his teeth. Red, white and blue is everywhere (food, flags, decorations). My mother is in 4th of July heaven. She has brought with her flags and food and trinkets.
What my husband can’t stand is the flag-waving and arrogance by certain people that takes place in the US on this day. It frustrates him. It makes him nervous. He is slowly becoming numb to many ignorant statements: “America is the greatest country in the world,” “The US is number 1.” The hubris in such statements simply makes him shake his head in wonder. Having grown up here, I am used to such statements. I am also used to ignoring them. I hear the words as empty fluff.
In place of patriotic exuberance, I associate the 4th of July with childhood experiences: barbeques, fireworks, the warm envelopment of summer and sprinklers. For me, the 4th of July is a glorious day of laughter and fun, punctuated by watermelon-seed-spitting contests throughout the day. And did I mention the fireworks?
Ironically, my German husband will be participating in something oh so non-American on the American Day of Independence: he will be watching Germany play in the World Cup together with his other German friends! I find the irony simply delicious! Should we all wave German flags as the games begin and then trade them in for American flags as we set off our fireworks and eat our potato salad and apple pie? Should we begin the day with Würstchen and then move on to Hot Dogs? Start with Fußball cheers in German followed by picnics in English?
I’m sure that in the end it will somehow all fit together and somehow it will all make sense. But right now I feel a little nervous. I want to have a plan, to know what is coming, to know who will do what when and what we should speak when. Perhaps I am worried about whether cultures will clash or whether everything will transition smoothly between languages, cultures, identities and loyalties.
I tend to stand between worlds, as a kind of mediator. I am the referee watching the game of my bicultural family and making sure we all play by the rules. No one can be completely at fault. There are times when a yellow card must be issued but never, ever a red card. No one can or will be thrown out of the game and there will be no exchanges of players. Whether wounded or not, we must continue.
I’m still not sure how or why certain things have the meanings that they do. Why does a piece of fabric with stars and stripes waved by my children at a 4th of July march drive my husband to frustration? My husband explains to me what it was like to grow up in the Germany of his youth and how waving a flag was discouraged. It represented a kind of unhealthy patriotism, an undesired arrogance.
Perhaps that is why watching the World Cup right now is so emotional for him. The crowds of spectators are there in my husband’s country of origin. Millions of them have arrived, setting foot on German soil. My husband is here. He witnesses all of those fans in the stands rooting for their own countries. Each spectator represents that which my husband misses so much: his homeland, his family, the nuances that are only his own.
Tomorrow we will do many things: we will eat American food, we will cheer on a German team. We will share our lives with American. We will share our lives with Germans. We will witness flags from different countries being waved and we will allow ourselves to feel whatever we might feel.
And then in the dark, my brother will bring out a package of fireworks and we’ll stand in the middle of our little neighborhood street with our oh-so-very-American neighbors and share in a tradition that we can all agree upon.
Postscript: Now that my mother is no longer alive, our 4th of July celebrations have changed a lot. We no longer celebrate the 4th of July with flag-waving and as much red-white-and-blue. However, we still celebrate with favorite foods and fireworks. It just wouldn’t be a 4th of July without those!
Are there holidays or cultural celebrations that cause you or your spouse to feel frustration or discomfort? Do you enjoy participating in celebrations of your spouse’s culture?