Saturday, July 09, 2011

Thankfully riding the rails and buses this Fourth of July

I spent the evening of the fourth of July listening to my neighbors set a chunk of their disposable income afire in the form of hours-long stashes of fireworks. Our house shook with what seem to my untrained - but not unscathed - ears to be military-grade explosive devices secured on the black market.  my mind turns inevitably to the topic of freedom. And earplugs. But mainly freedom.

We are celebrating the July 4, 1776 finalizing of the text of the Declaration of Independence, which created the United States. Even though people like me (Black, female, non-land-owning) were not technically covered by the benefits until the 14th amendment, I'm still grateful that people kept pushing to get it right.
I've written before about the woman I met in Portugal who renewed my patriotic ferver with her own reverence for American history. This year I took a moment to give thanks for the many freedoms I enjoy.
  • Freedom of marriage choice (no forced marriages). Although my parents may have taken issue with some of the guys I dated when I moved back home after college, they were always supportive of me and gave their full blessing when my husband asked them about marrying me.
  • Freedom of travel, (even without my father or husband, as some women in Saudi Arabia must do) which we did all weekend, traveling by safe, convenient, affordable public bus, then train to Portland, Oregon to meet up with J. 
  •  Bus ride to birthday party, followed by light rail ride to train.
    Train ride to Portland. Nook Color keeping the kids entertained on the three and a half hour ride after the snacks and scenery grew old.
  • Freedom of education. Yes, the public schools in our area are struggling and/or failing thousands of kids each year. But having been born in rural Louisiana to a young mom in a farming family and who was among the first black students (along with her siblings and cousin) to integrate her local high school, I know things could always be worse. Despite the barriers during the middle part of the last century, education was highly valued in our family.  I have two aunts who are teachers and most of my aunts and uncles attended or graduated from college. Education proved to be the ticket out of that small, limiting, rural town for them, and eventually me. 
So when I see pictures like the one above of Ava practicing her name in a fogged up bathroom mirror, I can't help but think of a time when she or I could have been killed for this simple, revolutionary act: learning.

  • Freedom to nurse my almost-too-big-to-nurse kid discretely in public without harrassment. Unlike the Chicago mom who was recently harrassed by a bus driver (!) for nursing her two week old INFANT on a city bus (Breastfeeding mom harassed on city bus), we took transit all over on this holiday weekend (bus to preschooler birthday party, bus to light rail, light rail to Amtrak to Portland, Oregon) and with the early start and long, busy day, there were several nursing pit stops for Dylan. Not once was I hassled or even given more than a passing glance. No doubt in part because I did it discreetly and most folks probably thought I was just holding a sleepy toddler in the crook of my arm with a burp cloth draped over my shoulder. Nothing to see here. Just move along.
Freedom to pamper myself and my girly with a mommy-daughter pedicure.
All of these were my simple reminders of how amazing this country usually is, especially in comparison to places that are not as freedom-loving. The day after the Fourth, I overheard a co-worker remark: "I've always wanted to go to the naturalization ceremony and I finally did this year. It was so affirming! 525 people from 81 countries taking the oath of citizenship."

"I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the armed forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God."
Affirming indeed, and a perfect counter to the anti-immigration rhetoric that abounds in politics, talk radio, and elsewhere. Sure there are still plenty of narrow-minded, short-sighted, divisive activities across this country, like Georgia's anti-immigration law and health disparities based on socio-economic status. But take it from those 525 people: we've got a pretty good thing going here. Let's keep working on getting right. Happy Fourth of July.

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