When I was a child visiting America, I remember my aunt having these square pans, deep, with chocolate cake, and upon it in the right colors, the American flag was drawn in enough sweetness to now make my teeth hurt. That was the summer, too, she took me to a drive-through bank, and I recall getting from the teller a pen that had a coin-shaped cap with the American flag on it.
It hardly gets any better than that for a child, no matter his or her nationality, and from what I understand now the summer of the Bicentennial that I spent under the tutelage of my Chicago relative was a big party, even by American standards.
This was the summer also of travel with the family out West, to behold the Grand Canyon, Death Valley, and a place called Tombstone that has set forever its mark in my memory that air conditioning was not a great nightmare, as I later read and understood metaphorically, in a book by Henry Miller. When you are a child, America is wonderful, whether you come from a developing country or the cool dark north of Europe, famous for its non-stop light if you catch it at the right time.
I establish my background as a U.S. citizen, as an American, which I became years later during a swearing in ceremony when I remember not being too happy about being corralled by my father to have my photo taken with my brother, fellow sworn-in citizen, under who happened to be president on that occasion, Ronald Reagan.
As an academic I am definitely conservative, two words which do not go together for most people when they think about the professoriate, no matter the recent showdown at Cantor Corral. But imagine a country where a young man can attend two schools in Texas, Trinity University and TCU, and get a great education and become an English professor. All the while going both with and against the grain, and no Dear Leader chopping my head off or someone banishing me to a cold place as if Solzhenitsyn’s fate lived on for generations to experience.
Whenever I set pen to paper to write about America and Independence Day, or more accurately, begin to move my fingers across the keyboard, they assume a lighter dancing motion, a fluidity, that comes, so unlike a more stuttering and banging activity when I write about other subjects. I check my reasoning self to be sure I have not bought all the propaganda, but even so, how can one not enjoy some of the propaganda of America. Even Putin would be upset if we took away his privilege to travel to Disney World.
For all of its ups and downs and shows of extreme wastefulness, America is a country that has offered me so many choices in my life. This is not to say that if I had stayed in Sweden life would have been hell if we must also employ in our judgment that wonderful as it can be to some annoying American way of uttering and giving voice to things being black or white. But every time I begin to think about America I remember in my studies as an English major the Irish Nobel Prize recipient Seamus Heaney’s lines of “The unquestionable houseboy’s shoulders that could have been my own,” of realities different, not peaceful, maybe violent and speech-guarded in other countries. Now I have choices, and yes, even Swedes celebrate Independence Day, have and do make the choice to call it that instead of 4th of July.