July 4th Weekend, 2017
By Arthur H. Gunther III
NYACK, N.Y. — You would expect July Fourth weekend — and the gathering in public area that comes with that — to be boisterous, noisy, of course, celebratory. It is all that in this village along the Hudson River just north of New York City, but this year there is an even stronger reason why America celebrates its birthday so heartily: the people who are here.
More than ever, there is a veritable league of nations in Memorial Park, partly because Rockland County, so close to the port of New York and diverse even before its 1798 founding, is becoming more so. Sitting near me in the park were women dressed in Islamic headwear, Orthodox Jews, people from India wearing red, white and blue shirts and saris, African Americans whose families have helped build Nyack for centuries, and men, women and children of so many national backgrounds that I cannot gather the total count of different countries.
And all here on July Fourth weekend, a distinctly American holiday that is probably new or certainly newish to many in the park. Some come from countries where no celebration is allowed save bowing to the national leader.
It is usual practice to recall America’s history on July Fourth and for politicians in particular to make note of how immigrants built the country after the almost suicidal chances taken by those at Lexington and Concord, by our Founders, by Washington and by the citizen-soldier. It is reaffirming to hear our narrative, even if over and over, even if we must accept the flowery praise of some of our speakers.
Yet nothing gives truth to the story like people — free people with many different faces — enjoying July Fourth fireworks on a majestic river, picnic at hand, family and friends there. That this is allowed — yes, allowed — is the greatness of America. It is our blessing. It is our hope. It is our present and our future, built on our past.
After this holiday weekend, government national, state, local will go back to “work.” Today we question what work is being done and how democracy can thrive through special interest, without common sense and with greed. We are a nation in trouble, in a troubling world. A downer if you mull on it. When I do, I switch the senses back to the Nyacks of America, where on July Fourth weekend the people’s faces give a different perspective.
The writer is a retired newspaperman. (Ahgunther@yahoo.com) Essay adapted from July 2013.