Some of my friends are having a fight right now.
What kind of party?
An American party.
What’s an American party?
People outside of the US have these things called American parties, where people dress up like Americans and eat popcorn and marshmallows and stuff. Don’t believe me? Buzzfeed rounded up some typical American party activities back in March.
Okay so what’s the big deal? It’s just a party right?
Well, one of my friends wanted to have an American party, here in America.
Then some other friends said, “No no no, how can we do a party that is all patriotism when the USA has done so many terrible things? How can we condone genocide, jingoism, and all that America stands for? So much wrong is done in the name of patriotism!”
Speaking of patriotism, last year, for example, I went to the St. Paul rodeo. That was like an American party but people were taking it very very seriously.
It’s one of the more famous rodeos in the US, known for its displays of militarism, jingoism, patriotism (like when they play the star spangled banner there, they actually shoot off cannons). The announcer was keen to separate the people in the audience from “those liberal city folk” and it felt almost like I got caught in a commercial for a conservative TV station.
There were a lot of people waving the flag, rodeo princesses, horses, guns, military recruitment, and of course, the actual rodeo itself.
Rodeo clowns, people being maimed, animals being abused, and some pumping, insistent music to cover up what was going on. And in the bathrooms there were little fundraising flyers to help injured bull riders.
But what was underneath all of this was class.
Class was brought up all of the time in subtle ways. Working class pitted against middle class. Lack of education as a badge of honor. One of the bummer things about being in America is that class doesn’t get talked about. And I think one of the things that bothers my friend is that there are so many different class differences between her and other friends, and she’s trying to address that.
Instead of trying to dismiss the whole party because of America’s corrupt past (and present), if they wanted to go political with it, let’s talk about why class makes us so uncomfortable that we can’t even acknowledge it. Is it because it’s etched so deeply into our society, but our national myth denies it at all, and so the social-justice-minded among us end up with this impenetrable cognitive dissonance?
Having a party like this isn’t going to wipe away our class differences or open up doors out of the working class for my poorer friends. But if my friend (who’s soundly middle-class) is uncomfortable with a party that highlights how differently we live, maybe it’s a good way to start having these conversations.
I’d never seen a rodeo before but it was indeed quite an interesting anthropological experiment. I believe we’re here to have experiences so I treated it like a chance to have a new experience, even though it was also kind of awful.
Back to the American party.
Another friend said, “Look, when you throw a birthday party for someone, you don’t talk about the bad things about them, you talk about the good things! So why not just enjoy the party and celebrate America’s birthday?”
Utah Phillips, one of my favorite folk heroes, had something to say about this. Utah Phillips fought in the Korean war and when he came home he became an alcoholic and rode the rails up and down the west coast. He had a mentor named Ammon Hennacy. Hennacy founded the Joe Hill House in Salt Lake City. He was a Catholic Pacifist draft dodger. Phillips was complaining about how awful the USA was to him, and Hennacy said,”You love the country but can’t stand the government. Get it straight.” To read the full piece of what Utah Phillips and Ammon Hennacy said, go here.
After much back and forth, the person who wanted to throw the party said, “Well, I want to have a silly party, are you going to come or not?” And a lot of people said not, and that is too bad, I think, because playing with stereotypes and being silly is as good a thing to do as anything on July 4th.
I remember going to 4th of July parties at my dad’s parents house. My dad’s dad was a naturalized American citizen. He spoke French first. He was born in Canada. Fought in WWII in the Pacific.
Here’s a picture of me and my cousin on the 4th of July. I know I’m wearing a tie dye shirt. Don’t judge.
There were fireworks, swimming in the pool, singing old French-Canadian songs, hotdogs, hamburgers, sparklers, sheet cake, ping pong, and running around in the dark. Even our 4th of July party was about immigrants, us French-Canadians in America.
The more I talk with people the more I realize if we live in the US we are often just 1 or 2 generations away from being immigrants, if we are not immigrants ourselves.
Believe me, I don’t agree with many of the US government’s policies. I don’t believe in all of the harm our government is doing to people here, to immigrants, to people of color, and around the world. But does that mean an American party is bad?
What if you love the country but can’t stand the government? What do you do? Is it wrong to have an American party?
Who is right? What do you think?