La fiesta del 4 de julio

First, Some History…
On July 4th, 1776, the founding fathers of the United States signed the Declaration of Independence. From that day forward, the 4th of July has been celebrated as a national holiday.
In defiance of the British monarchy, America declared itself free and independent in 1776, but to whom did this promise of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” apply? That iconic phrase was coined by the main draftee of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson. The causes of the thirteen colonies’ secession from Britain is multifaceted, but a principle reason was because the colonies were taxed by the English Crown without receiving proper representation in Parliament. “Taxation without representation” is one of the most famous phrases that sums up the start of the American Revolution, implying the war was fought over principles of freedom.
However, the reason many families, such as the Washingtons and Jeffersons, initially emigrated to the colonies was to gain power and prominence they could not attain in the rigid English hierarchies of society in their day. Even if someone were a member of the landed aristocracy in England, many “second sons” (sons who stood to inherit significantly less) made their way to the colonies to strike it rich. Often they established plantations to produce cash crops such as tobacco. Most of the labor on these farms and plantations was done by enslaved people, and the wealth accumulated formed the cornerstone of a new American aristocracy. As much as the signing of the Declaration of Independence was prompted by a new vision of the ideals of freedom, it must be noted that there were material pressures at play, and one person’s independence often depended on another person’s oppression.

Frederick Douglass, ca. 1879. George K. Warren. (National Archives Gift Collection)

“I am not included within the pale of glorious anniversary!”  – Frederick Douglass

If all men were created equal, then why were some held in permanent bondage? Despite the lofty promise that liberty would be enjoyed by all citizens of the new nation, the freedom touted by Thomas Jefferson and the founding fathers was reserved for the white, land-owning men of the infant nation.

One of the first people to raise objections to the hypocrisy of celebrating the Fourth was Frederick Douglass, and he did so in a 1852 keynote address, given in Rochester, New York. As a free black man asked to give a speech honoring the signing of the Declaration of Independence, at a time when chattel slavery persisted in his nation, he took the opportunity to express his profound discontent.

However, Douglass had respect for the founding fathers and their brave step toward freedom and away from monarchical tyranny. The ideals they stood for were admirable. But Douglass reminded his listeners that American freedom was incomplete. It would still be incomplete even after the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. It was incomplete in 1919, after the signing of the 19th amendment, giving women the right to vote. It was incomplete in 1964, after the signing of the Civil Rights Act. It was incomplete still after 2015, when same-sex marriage was federally legalized. Freedom was not invented on the 4th of July in 1776. The words of Frederick Douglass should compel us to ask: if liberty for all people was incomplete on that day, can we believe that it is complete now?

Today How Do Americans Typically Celebrate the Day?

Americans are lucky to have the national holiday right in the middle of summer when the weather is generally warm and sunny nationwide and it’s a perfect time to celebrate outdoors with picnics, barbeques and parades. People enjoy the day with friends, family and neighbours. A typical midwestern barbeque might find people playing yard games, such as “cornhole” and “lawn darts” while enjoying burgers, hot dogs, and beer. Everyone celebrates it differently, as America is not a monolith, but the Fourth is a classic American holiday widely celebrated from coast to coast.
On a municipal level, most American towns, whether they hold 500 or 500,000 citizens, have a 4th of July parade down their main street. These typically include floats, more American flags than you could count, and perhaps a marching band playing all the usual patriotic tunes. In addition, this is a time when political speeches are often made. Most orators look to the past and discuss the history of the United States’ creation. Others use the occasion to make poignant remarks about the present and future.

When night falls on the Fourth, the most iconic aspect of this holiday makes its appearance: the fireworks! Americans love a boisterous spectacle and the fireworks shows may be the loudest example of this. Many towns and cities put on big shows for the public, these being far grander than what you might set off at home. The legality of fireworks varies from state to state. In some states although you can legally set them off, the sale of fireworks is curiously prohibited.

Three Fun Facts:

  1. Americans love to wave the flag, but wearing the American flag and using it for commercial products like plates and napkins is actually violating “flag code”. Flag Code is not legally binding, but it does lay out how the stars and stripes should be properly handled, folded, and eventually retired.
  2. Perhaps this morbid fact is not exactly “fun”, but it is fascinating that three of the first five presidents of the United States ended up dying on the Fourth of July. Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and James Monroe all passed away on Independence Day. Stranger yet, Adams and Jefferson died on the very same day in the very same year: July 4, 1826.
  3. The Declarartion of Independence was not signed on the Fourth of July! Rather, that was the day it was adopted. The actual signing took place on August 2nd, 1776.

How Do We Celebrate at the International Institute?

The International Institute in Madrid, Spain celebrates the Fourth of July with live music, dancing in the garden, and food and drink. In 2024 The Louisiana Cats will be performing live in the garden. They are known for their Country, Folk, and Rock & Roll sound, so expect to hear some classic American tunes. We’re encouraging everyone to try Country Line Dancing this year. There are still places available in the workshop for kids and teens offered by Country Line Dancers Sonia, Sonia & Salomé at 5:30pm: more info here!  Sonia, Sonia & Salomé remind everyone attending the party to bring cowboy hats and boots this year.
In recent years, we have begun to offer more expansive catering to celebrate this event and that tradition continues this year with Gourmet Pizza & Catering cooking up hamburgers, hot dogs, and pizzas. They make their pizzas fresh and on the spot, so you will be there for every step of the process. Taste of America has once again gifted the Institute a bundle of tempting goodies that will be raffled off.