Tracing the roots of Independence Day

Where does this holiday come from?

I’m looking for its roots. Fireworks and fried chicken crossed the Pacific from China. Parades have marched and religious festivals have carried gods with dancing and music in many parts of the world as long ago as 3000 B.C.

For water balloons, we can thank a Luso Brazilian priest, Bartolomeu de Gusmäo. The Inca and the Mayans had used rubber for centuries; in 1709, Gusmäo filled it with air and presented balloons at the Portuguese court.

Watermelon grows naturally in tropical Africa.

Look closely at the icons of the Fourth of July, the birthday of the United States, and they span the globe. They reach back much farther than the day a council of Protestant men and Abigail Adams told the world that no one could tell them what to do — just as the Iroquois confederacy’s political structure shaped the Constitution, and their agriculture germinated the shoots coming up now in the cornfields.

I’ll drink to that.

With fire engines, the United States comes closer to earning some credit. In Philadelphia in 1736, a young Benjamin Franklin turned a haphazard mill of volunteers into an organized corps of firefighters. He also created a subscription library and arguably founded the public library system. I’ll drink to that, too.

When I celebrate independence, I celebrate every inch of the movement in this country to assert that all men, honey I tell you all men, are created equal. I celebrate the public library system that allows every soul access to knowledge — that gives me a translation of the poetry of Clemente Soto Velez, the Puerto Rican patriot who died in exile in New York City, and that gives children in inner cities a chance to learn analysis.

And I celebrate the independence I have, because I was born here.

We have the incredible privilege of controlling our own time. We can sit down to a Chinese banquet, pray with a Sufi teacher, or sit at the naked feet of a bronze sculpture that a master artist has set up in a public garden, every day of the week. I’ll organize a parade in rainbow colors to recognize that freedom.

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