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Identity

Here’s What Immigrants Think About the Fourth of July

“When I first came here, I was very into the idea of America as the land of opportunity for all, but now I know that the idea of equality in this country is a farce.”

by Mary Retta
Jul 3 2019, 8:31pm

All images courtesy of the subject

R. Baker is a mother, homemaker, and Jamaican immigrant who’s been living in Washington D.C. for 25 years. Despite long living in the country’s capital, she has a complicated relationship with the U.S.

“When I first came here, I was very into the idea of America as the land of opportunity for all,” she recalled. “But now I know that the idea of equality in this country is a farce.”

For Baker, those feelings endure year-round, but are especially pronounced on Independence Day—a holiday that celebrates America's supposed offerings of life, liberty, and freedom for all. “We usually celebrate in some way, or go to watch the fireworks,” she said. “But we don’t really think about it as celebrating independence.”

This year, due to President Trump’s recent announcement of a plan to deport thousands of migrant families, July 4th arrives in the midst of a terrifying predicament for many. Meanwhile, deportation rates in the past several years have skyrocketed, and many migrants live in fear every day of being detained and forced out of the country by Immigration & Customs Enforcement.

In this fraught moment, we asked five immigrants what the 4th of July means to them, and how they choose to celebrate it.

Sasha Gopalakrishnan
Born in India, living in New York

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Image: courtesy of Sasha Gopalakrishnan

Since moving to the States, I’ve always felt a huge pressure to feel moved by the 4th of July. It’s kind of in line with everything else that goes along with being an immigrant in America —being expected to know and care about American politics, American culture, American history and American holidays more than you know and care about the politics, culture, history, and holidays of any other place in the world. So, sometimes I feel bitter, as though I’m expected to forego every cultural celebration at home for a celebration in the U.S. that I feel the need to have a personal stake in even when I really don’t have one. Of course, I respect how important 4th of July is to Americans, but what’s unfortunate is the feeling of being out of place at a time of celebration, having to feign an understanding of what the holiday means to other people just so you can assimilate within the country, and simultaneously knowing that your own national holidays back home have no significance in the U.S.

Fidel
Born in Libera, living in Virginia

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Image: courtesy of Fidel

If it weren’t for my friends that are American, I don’t think I would celebrate the 4th of July. Because I wasn’t born here, the holiday has never really affected me. After living here for a while, I’ve come to realize that America is a melting pot of so many different cultures, and I take comfort in knowing I would not be the only non-American celebrating the day. I try to engage in the holiday by being around people that I care about. I feel like if you aren’t celebrating America’s independence, you should be celebrating life, family, and the ones you love.

Nicole Paulette
Born in Puerto Rico, living in New York

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Image: courtesy of Nicole Paulette

I’ve celebrated July 4th in the U.S. and at home, and it’s been a little weird in both places. When I was growing up, it was really just a day for us to go to the beach as a family. But as I got older, I started understanding Puerto Rico’s status as a territory. I sort of realized that all of the fucked up things that happen––like losing power for days without warning––were related to our status as a colony. That’s when I started getting into more fights with my dad, who is super pro-statehood, about the 4th of July. Even though there’s a lot of dissonance in my thoughts about America, I’m still planning to stay here rather than live in PR again, because I enjoy living in difference. In Puerto Rico, there are really strict rules for what it means to “be” Puerto Rican, and it can be really stifling. Because I’m queer and because I went to college in the U.S., I don’t really fit in there anymore. I think I can be different and happy in the U.S., but if I stay in PR, I’ll be different and unhappy.

Sami
Born in Peru, living in Washington, D.C.

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Image: courtesy of Sami

I’m an immigrant from Peru, and I came here when I was one and a half, so I basically grew up in America. For me and my family, the day is not about celebrating America––it’s just a day to look at the fireworks and spend time together. I understand that for Americans, it’s a really big deal. Personally, I don’t care about this whole holiday because I find America to be fucked up as a whole.

R. Baker
Born in Jamaica, living in Washington, D.C.

I’ve lived in America for 25 years now. When I first came here, I was very into the idea of America as the land of opportunity for all. But now I know that the idea of equality in this country is a farce. We usually celebrate in some way, or go watch the fireworks––it’s different every year. But we don’t really think about it as celebrating independence, even though that’s obviously what the day is supposed to be about. It’s strange, because I definitely feel some sentimental value towards the holiday. When the kids were little, I would bake a cake and decorate it red, white, and blue, things like that. It’s not so much independence we’re celebrating, it’s a celebration of the good life I’ve made here.