July is the month when many countries celebrate their Independence Day, viz. Canada, Burundi, Rwanda (1 July); United States of America (4 July); Venezuela (5 July) to name a few. An independence day signifies freedom of a nation from a foreign yoke. It is a time of happiness for the people as they take their future in their own hands and move towards self-determination. When we commemorate a country’s Independence Day we partake of this defining moment in their history.
So I thought. Since American Studies is one of the papers for the B.A. degree, students decided to observe the Independence Day of America. Informative power-point presentations were made covering American colonial history, literature, fashion and music. Hotdogs made by students followed, laced with chips and the all-American Coke. Dressed in red, white and blue --the colours of the flag.
Some felt the event was glorifying America. ‘Would the Americans stand up for our National anthem?!’ Students held their ground saying that their intention was not to glorify a culture, since both literature and the colonial push were critiqued in the presentations. It was pointed out that the anthem refers to a historical event, i.e. the bombardment of Fort McHenry in Chesapeake Bay, Virginia by British ships of the Royal Navy in 1812. If you don’t play the anthem on a nation’s Independence Day when do you play it?
Rising to one’s feet for a national anthem is the respect you give to a nation. As one student put it, ‘Just because one American does not rise for our anthem, it does not mean I should do the same for his.’ It has been my constant belief that literature fosters a humanistic society. Cross-cultural studies seek to foster an understanding of peoples and to counter prejudice. My takeaways from this were: 1. When criticized, keep communication lines open 2. Involve the stakeholders 3. Trust your belief system.
Columbia celebrates its Independence Day on 20th July. It marks protests in Bogotá against Spanish rule in 1810. Maldives is a younger nation having achieved its independence from the British on 26 July 1965. Similarly Algeria celebrates its Independence from the French in 1963 on 5th July. An openness to different cultures and literatures (with their contemporary spin) makes life more colourful --witness Americanah by Nigerian woman novelist Chimamanda Adichie. There is so much to learn!
New Delhi being the hub of almost all the embassies, every nation’s Independence day used to be celebrated. Those in diplomatic circles used to be invited for all these events. It gave us an unmatched weltanschauung / world-view of tolerance and indeed revelry in all cultures.
Ultimately wherever we live we are one people. On 9th July Greg Hindy (22) completed a one year journey walking 8000 miles across America from New Hampshire to Los Angeles. This was to photograph simple American folk. That he did it in silence suggests we need to listen more to other voices than criticize them.
Published in Gomantak Times Weekender St. Inez. Goa on Sunday 27 July 2014; Pix. Independence Day, Maldives. Courtesy Kishore.