The Fourth of July has come and gone. The stars and stripes no longer hang from porch banisters and the sight of brightly-colored fireworks no longer occupy the night skies. Yet, here in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, my home away from home, patriotism still lingers heavily in the air. It was here in Lancaster that I experienced my first “mainland” Fourth of July, and as a kid from Hawaii, it was definitely a cultural experience.
Growing up in Hawaii, patriotism was expressed differently. In Pennsylvania, as well as the rest of the United States, American patriotism is worn on the sleeve—loud, proud and brazen. However, the American flag in a civilian setting in the Islands is a seldom sight. I struggle to recall a time or place throughout my childhood where I saw Old Glory flying from anywhere other than a post office, a school, or a park.
In contrast, many of the homes, apartments and even dorm rooms here in Pennsylvania use the Star Spangled Banner or some image of its ilk as a common decoration in a way that I have never experienced in my home town. This is not to say that those who live in Hawaii aren’t proud Americans, the significant number of war memorials that honor the brave service members who gave their lives for the United States are sobering reminders of the island chain’s love of country. Yet, there is a huge difference in the way that this love of country is expressed on a daily basis.
Perhaps it’s simply due to the nearly 2,500 miles that separates the Hawaiian Islands from the contiguous United States. Perhaps it is the consequence of America’s illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy and the resulting Hawaiian sovereignty movement. Feasibly, it may be simply a result of the heavy influence that Asia has had on Hawaii’s culture, however whatever the reason may be, there is no doubt that there is a significant degree of cultural separation between the Islands and the mainland.
When it comes to loyalties in Hawaii, I think it is safe to say that the majority of residents put state before country. Shirts and bumper stickers proudly boast that “This ain’t the mainland” and that the locals are “Grown here not flown here.” Fourth of July parades on the islands display the stars and stripes in a way that honors the Islands as well. Paniolos, the Hawaiian cowboys who were rough riding and steer wrestling long before their mainland counterparts roamed the wild west, ride through the parades, their horses draped in leis and flower garlands.
Hula dancers from the local Halaus occasionally grace the stages of the many floats, and politicians distribute candy and hellos while wearing an aloha shirt instead of suffocating ties. In this way, Hawaii makes the holiday its own, and it does so with grace and class. The best way that I can sum up the local attitude concerning patriotism and loyalty is thus: proud to be from Hawaii, grateful to be an American. Being part of a first world democracy is truly a blessing, and when duty calls, those from the Islands will respond, but at the end of the day, Hawaii comes first.
By contrast, the state of Pennsylvania may be one of the most patriotic states in the union. It’s a land with a deep-rooted history of patriotism. From the writing and signing of the Declaration of Independence and the American Constitution, to the military events that transpired at Gettysburg and Valley Forge, some of America’s most iconic moments have taken place in Pennsylvania. To be Pennsylvanian is to be American. This fact is one which I experienced in full force when I witnessed and participated in Lancaster’s Fourth of July.
The celebration was truly one of the most absurdly American things I have ever experienced. The outdoor concert was a sea of red-white-and-blue-speckled bodies, sprawled across the park. The performance consisted of almost as much military marches as it did country music and the amount of times those who had served were asked to stand and were honored, began to exhaust me and all I had to do was watch them. It felt like a scene out of a movie, from the barbecues to the bald eagle T-shirts and the footballs being thrown, the event was almost a caricature in itself.
The incredible thing about the Fourth of July in the United States of America is that even though what I experienced in Lancaster, Pennsylvania may have been more American than I’m used to, in the sense that it embodied the American stereotypes far more accurately than any Hawaiian celebration could, in the end, it was no more American than anything I grew up with.
The beauty of America is the simple fact that no matter how you choose to celebrate this country and its independence, you’re doing it the American way. Thanks to the declaration of this country’s independence, a nation was brought into existence that, for all its many flaws, has allowed its people to celebrate and honor its existence in a variety of unique and diverse ways. It was for the preservation of this diversity that men and women throughout this country’s history have given their lives for and it is in honor of those who have made such sacrifice that we must continue to fight and preserve the diversity that is our country’s strength and pride.