I was home from the ceremony by midnight, but could still here the blaring ranchero music when I drifted off to sleep around two. I had expected it to be a loud night and didn’t really mind. It’s not every day you turn two-hundred. This was the culmination for me, having traveled through North America and been in each country for its Independence Day. But I should start at the beginning…
July 1st, Victoria, BC
“How independent is Canada really?” I teased my friend. It’s true, she confessed. The Queen was visiting that Canada Day and an editorial in the newspaper seemed to capture the national sentiment – supporting a European Monarchy is ridiculous, but the Queen herself is so perfect no one has the heart to change things.
July 1st was also the first day of a new tax, the “harmonized sales tax”. I found this name hilarious. I assured my friends that in the U.S. we would never refer to a tax as harmonious. We would never use those two words in the same sentence.
The streets were filled with festivities. Everyone was dressed in red and white and seemed to be in an alcohol-assisted state of happiness. This all fit with what I’ve heard about Canadians, extremely polite, and rather fond of beer. According to my friend, a good deal of Canada’s current national identity can be linked back to a Molson’s commercial.
July 4th Gig Harbor, WA
On July 4th, we sailed from Victoria to Port Angeles, Washington. A sign at the ferry terminal said, “Happy Independence, neighbor.” We were eventually on our way to Portland which has a fabulous Blues Festival fourth of July weekend. However, we spent the night in the small town of Gig Harbor on Puget Sound. Things were fairly subdued. We sat at Tides Tavern and watched boat sail up to the dock to order to-go food. It was early evening. There was no municipal fireworks display and restaurants were closing. “Everyone wants to go home and BBQ and let off fireworks with their family,” I explained to the Canadians, feeling a little embarrassed.
The lack of hoopla was fine with me. I’m a bit uncomfortable with patriotism. It’s not that I don’t appreciate what I have. A representative, secular democracy is a great thing. But I didn’t do anything to earn the privileges I enjoy. I don’t feel proud to be American- I feel lucky.
September 16 – Guanajuato, Gto
And now I am in Mexico for what is not just any Independence Day, but the Bicentennial. And, I’m not just anywhere, but in Guanajuato where the first battle in the struggle for independence was fought and won. Victory did not come swiftly. The leaders of the fight for independence did not live to see the success of their efforts the way Washington and Jefferson did. They were martyrs to the cause. For ten years, the Spanish displayed the cut-off heads of “the conspirators” hung in cages on the corners of the Alhondiga, a building which is now a museum.
Mexicans are night owls, so the big party was on the eve of Independence Day. People with flags, horns and confetti flooded down to the plaza in front of the Alhondiga. Musicians performed, a slide show depicted images of Mexico’s history and people, a giant digital clock counted down the minutes until the “grito”. The “grito” is an annual reenactment of the cry for independence which was first given by the priest Miguel Hidalgo 200 years ago. Now politicians repeat it to cheering crowds and one did so now. We all yelled ¡Vive!, sang and watched fireworks.
Independence isn’t all its cracked up to be. It’s hard to say if the world is really making progress. Sometimes it seems that given the chance at self-determination, what people are determined to do is make war with their neighbors. Fair and democratic elections have brought some really bad people to power. One wonders if we have simply shifted from political to economic imperialism. And of course, Mexico is having a hard time right now. In the end though, it beats the alternative. ¡Vive la Independencia!