A dispatch from our Department of Imagined Communities: Gregory Osina Weatherford, who grew up roving with parents employed by the State Department, reflects on the meaning held by July 4 while living in Afghanistan, Guinea, Brazil, and beyond.
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I moved to Virginia almost 40 years ago. But I spent my childhood overseas — Korea, Afghanistan, Guinea in West Africa, Brazil.
All through the 1960s and ’70s, my parents worked for the U.S. Foreign Service. And with all their American coworkers and friends, every year they celebrated the Fourth of July. For us kids, growing up so far from the United States, Independence Day was the second-biggest holiday of the year after Christmas.
We dressed in red, white, and blue and gathered in an open field. Parents brought pies baked with the mouth-puckering Afghan cherries from trees that grew in our yards, and hot dogs they’d saved in freezers. Fathers and sons played baseball. Any Marines who weren’t on duty, young men far from home, ate and drank and played guitars and sang “Fire and Rain.” When darkness fell, fireworks boomed and flared across the night sky while we gasped and applauded. For a boy like me, growing up without internet or DVDs or even VCRs, it was like seeing into another world.
You see, we dreamed of America. To us it was a country where anything was possible — Icees and comic books in every convenience store, cartoons every Saturday morning, policemen who spoke English, drinkable water straight from the tap.
When we moved to Virginia at last we found a country that was … a bit more complicated than we’d expected. Post-Nixon cynicism. The Cold War. Disco. Acid rain. It took some getting used to.
That complexity continues, of course, maybe more than ever. It’s a big country, with lots of people in it. Lots of points of view leads to lots of arguments. I can see that now.
But every Independence Day, the hot dogs and the guitars come out. Fathers and sons get out their bats and gloves. And when darkness falls, fireworks crack open the night sky like a dream, and everybody gasps in awe.