Independence Day through the eyes of a foreigner

A supporter carries an American flag during Jon Huntsman's presidential campaign announcement.

What does Independence Day mean to you? Is it a day of rejoice and celebrations? A day of fun and family reunions? Or is it a day where you take to the streets and congregate with fellow Americans and spangle the roads with your undying patriotism?

For me, I eagerly anticipate the federal holiday. But mainly because of the lovely, long weekend (God knows we can all do with a little break from work.) Other than that, however, I don’t feel a thing. And before any jingoists start hurling rocks at me, I would like to offer the explanation that I am not an U.S. citizen and that I have only arrived a month ago. It is easy to fall in love with the country, but it is not that easy to be patriotic, especially when I have yet to renounce my Singapore citizenship.

And I am not intending to.

I was not there when the former leaders of Singapore fought and won the political battle that granted our small, humble island a true sense of independence. I was not there either, when this small, humble island, despite all odds, transformed itself into a first-world city-state. But I was there to enjoy the success of my country and for that, I am truly and utterly grateful for.

Of course, there are things that I am embarrassed about for Singapore (we have a culture – yes, an actual culture – of reserving tables in eateries by placing packets of tissues on them) and issues that I don’t agree with (it is still illegal for gay men to have sex with one another) but Singapore is still my country and my birthplace, the city that molded me into the person I am today.

Now in a place 10,000 miles away from home, I will be celebrating another’s country independence. But I won’t be dressed in all blue and red and white, though I will definitely sign myself up for any parties with free-flowing booze (alcohol is ridiculously expensive back home.) I will not join in when the crowd starts belting out their own renditions of “Star Spangled Banner” but instead, I will smile politely and remind myself not to laugh when they sing out of key. I will not do anything “American” because I am not an American.

Unlike other festivities such as New Year Countdown parties, or Christmas celebrations, or civil rights movements such as Pride Parade, the commemoration of a country’s independence day is a private, exclusive and personal event. Everyone looks forward to Christmas and who doesn’t love counting down to a brand new year of hopes and dreams and opportunities? But to be put it bluntly, when it comes to your own country’s birthday, no one else really cares.

Sure, count us in when the firework displays go up into the sky. Or when the parade marches past us. Yet, we can’t and won’t love this country the way you do  — and that’s the whole point of Independence Day. It is a day when differences matter. It is a day when freedom and unity are remembered and celebrated, though ironically, this unity does not include us—the visitors, the tourists, the overseas workforce, the exchange students and the foreigners. And that’s perfectly fine.

This is why I love America. The messages it sends out, the issues it stands on, and the ways of life it acquiesces are all makings of a country that is free, united and independent, with people fiercely patriotic. I have asked some of my American friends about their sentiments towards their country and received unanimous loyal replies. I’m not too sure about how shopping at the sales can count as a patriotic activity, but one of the girls defensively told me that it is their way to stimulate the economy and get the American economic engine back on track again.

I remain doubtful about her display of patriotism, but who am I to judge? Everyone loves their country in their own way, and everyone here does love their country. Or at least that’s the feeling I get. In fact, the love for their country is so huge that it is rubbing off on me. Now I am feeling rather patriotic: I can’t wait to head home in August for Singapore’s National Day.

But then I remember that my country bans chewing gum and suddenly I am not so sure anymore. Pardon me, while I spit out the gum that I am chewing right at this moment, the gum that I have purchased very legally off the shelf in a store on Wall Street this morning. Take that, Singapore! And God Bless America, indeed!

Nicholas Lim is a summer intern at Metro who hails from Singapore.


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