It has been eight days since I released the seventh episode of You Say Toma(h)to but it feels like it has been months. July has been very busy here in Cambridge. We’ve moved house, I ran the British 10K, and . . . well that’s about it so far, but still that’s quite a lot. I’m hoping to write a few posts about all the goings on here in the next couple of weeks. But that’s not why you’re here reading this. You’re here because you want the inside scoop on our seventh episode. Well, here it is.
When I realised that the July episode release date was going to coincide with Independence Day, it made sense to focus on that in some way. I have very fond memories of past July 4th celebrations. As a kid, we would spend the day at the athletic club pool, swimming, playing games, eating barbecue, marching in the town parade, and gathering at night to watch fireworks. It combined all the best of summer activities into one day.
As I got older, I never lost my love of the Fourth of July. I still enjoy barbecues (albeit with vegetarian fare), spending time outside, and especially watching fireworks, but the meaning of the holiday has changed for me. As Americans, we grow up with the myths of our history. The Founding Fathers are venerated, July 4th is sacred, and our history and patriotism takes on an almost religious zeal. Tales of George Washington and the cherry tree for example paint a picture of a charmingly honest boy who would grow into a near-saintly man. Every nation has its mythologies, its legends, its tall-tales; America has them in abundance and they are often wrapped up in its founding history.
July 4th has taken on a complexity for me because of this mythology. Rather than thinking of the venerable Founding Fathers gathering in Philadelphia, signing the Declaration of Independence, I tend now to think about the irony of declaring freedom from the chains of Great Britain while continuing the atrocity of slavery. I think about how many of the signers owned slaves. I think about the wheeling and dealing that was necessary to bring forth a vote on independence in the first place. I think about Jefferson writing the Declaration and the process of editing it went through to make it palatable to all interests. We romanticize the founding of our country and condemn the politicking of the modern day and yet, they are not so dissimilar. Special interests have always been at play. There have always been people who are forgotten or intentionally marginalized or in the case of enslaved people, brutalized by the political and economic systems in play. If we read history holistically and not through red, white, and blue lenses, I suggest we never find a moment when America was wholly great.
This Fourth of July was especially difficult. For one thing, we were moving house and so there wasn’t much time for celebrating. For another, there’s that whole thing about Donald Trump being president, the GOP healthcare plan, and the growing divisions in American society. I found this July 4th was a rather cynical occasion for me. The release of an NRA ad calling for academics, protesters, and members of the media to be dealt with using “the first of truth” only put me further out of spirits. I don’t like feeling this way about my country, about my nationality, about myself. There have been times since January where I have been reluctant to reveal my citizenship. And yet . . .
Despite these difficulties, my more holistic reading of history brings me hope. Throughout our past, there have been figures who have stood against bigotry, authoritarianism, and have done so with messages of love, empathy, and tolerance. There have been those who have fought against their own interests because it was the right thing to do. I find hope in many strands of American history and I cling onto that hope now.
There’s also something about living abroad at a time like this. It puts things in perspective. It confronts you with other reads on your nation’s history and challenges your own understandings. Speaking with Jeremy about his own education about the United States was really enlightening. For him, the majority of his education about the US was focused on the Civil Rights Movement and America’s place in the world since the 20th century. I wonder how my own perspective would change had those been the major points of my American history education. Of course it is incomplete, but then so was my education. I learned very little about US history since the end of World War II. Discussing the focuses of our education revealed what was deemed important to those designing our respective curricula. As a former teacher, nothing fascinates me more than the silences and gaps we build into students’ educations whether intentionally or unintentionally.
The last thing I’ll say on this whole subject is this: if you are a history student at any level, ask this question of your teachers and administrators as often as you can: what aren’t you telling me? What are you leaving out? Why? And then, read as many different sources as you can from as many perspectives as you can and decide for yourself where the myths lie and what the whole story really is.
I was so thrilled to be able to have my friends Geoff and Helen on the seventh episode of You Say Toma(h)to. Speaking to them about travelling and dating across national borders actually gave me some great insights into my own experiences. My earliest travel memories and exposure to travel were very much like Geoff’s. We would take long road trips around the US but it wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I finally went out of the country. It’s always fun as well to consider how similar our experiences of dating internationally are. Geoff and Helen and Jeremy and I are both North American/UK couples and there are definitely specific quirks inherent in that combination. Even so, the challenges and benefits of being in a relationship with someone with whom you don’t share a common background, really makes for some interesting adventures and I am really thankful that Helen and Geoff shared those in our interview.
We really hope you enjoyed our Word of the Month as well. It’s one of those words that became even more interesting after a few searches on the internet. If you have any suggestions of words you’d like us to discuss, please don’t hesitate to comment! We’d love some suggestions.
I really want to take a minute to thank you for listening and reading. It really means a lot to know that there are folks out there who take an hour or so out of their day to listen to us. We really appreciate it. Thank you.
Stay tuned for episode 01.08 of You Say Toma(h)to. It will be released on 1 August. Catch you then!