By Arthur H. Gunther III
NYACK, N.Y. -- You would expect July Fourth fireworks -- and the gathering in public area that comes with that -- to be boisterous, noisy, of course, celebratory. It was all that in this village along the Hudson River just north of New York City, but this year there was an even stronger reason why America celebrates its birthday so heartily: the people who were there.
More than ever, there was 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, with thousands attending, were women dressed in Islamic headwear, Orthodox Jews, people from India wearing red, white and blue shirts and saris, African Americans whose families who have helped build Nyack for centuries and men, women and children of so many national backgrounds that I cannot remember the total count of different countries.
And all here on July Fourth, a distinctly American holiday that was probably new or certainly newish to many in the park. Some had 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.
On July 5, Congress, the president, the Supreme Court, state and local governments and all officialdom went back to “work.” Today we question what work is being done and how democracy can thrive through special interest, political correctness without common sense and 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 the people’s faces gave a different perspective.
The writer is a retired newspaperman.