Independence Day Remarks
Chargé d’Affaires Katherine Brucker
Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire
July 3, 2019
It is a pleasure to welcome so many friends here today as we celebrate the 243rd anniversary of American independence. It’s especially nice to see our British colleagues here – proving again that good relations can exist between colonial powers and their former subjects.
Since the time that American rebels made a forceful break with England, much has been said about what it means to be American. Certainly, the Pilgrims who came to the United States in the 1600s were American by choice; they left Europe and their European-ness for a new life in the new world.
Our Constitution grants (with a few exceptions) citizenship to those born on American soil, but being born in the United States is not enough to confer citizenship to one’s children. To do that, American citizens must spend a significant time in the United States.
Why is this?
It’s because being American has much more to do with our values, ideals and common experiences – everything from our educational system, our history and our heroes, to our culture and our holidays. Indeed, many recent immigrants have more experience in these areas – they are “more American” — than some Americans who derive their citizenship by birth but live elsewhere in the world. How you look and what your name is don’t make you any more – or any less – American. Indeed, looking at the faces in the crowd tonight, any one of you could be an American.
As for names – let’s try something. Everyone please raise your hand, and lower it when you hear a name that is not American: Smith, Jones, Turner, McCarthy, Greenwald, Chung, LeBlanc, Lenoir, Canenguez, Desgranges, Diop…Okay, for all of you who have lowered your hands, you’ve challenged the citizenship of one of my fellow American diplomats!
We are proud of being a nation of immigrants. And, recent debates about immigration notwithstanding, we confer citizenship on people from any nation who want to embrace the United States and all that it stands for. To me, it is an honor that people from other countries want to become citizens of the United States. We welcome the diversity that they bring and see it as an asset to our society.
As a third generation American, I come from a family of traditional European immigrants. My paternal great grandfather left France in the 1880s and went all the way to St. Louis, Missouri, where he met and married a Swiss woman from Neuchâtel. While I’ve met many of my distant European relatives, other Americans who’ve never met their foreign forefathers are equally proud to be Polish-American, Italian-American, German-American, and so on.
What turned my great grandfather into an American? It was wanting a better life, and making one in the United States. Contributing to society and embracing American culture. But becoming American didn’t mean shedding his French-ness, even if he had a new passport. Many of our family traditions and favorite recipes reflect our immigrant roots.
The food we are serving tonight is typical American cuisine: Hamburgers and cheeseburgers, hot dogs, guacamole and salsa; but probably only the hush puppies and chocolate chip cookies are truly American inventions!
Many of you know of the American holiday Thanksgiving, and the lucky among you have been fortunate enough to experience one. As one of my best friends is fond of saying: you have to love a holiday that is all about food!
The first Thanksgiving, as the legend goes, likely featured much more genuine giving of thanks than its contemporary edition: the Pilgrims had survived a terrible year and were lucky to be alive. Through friendship with Native Americans they were learning how to cope in this strange, new world. Reflecting the food of the time, traditional Thanksgiving meals today feature turkey, corn, potatoes, bread (usually prepared as stuffing), cranberries and pumpkin pie.
In celebrating Thanksgiving, however, we celebrate our diversity. Turkey and the traditional side dishes find a place at every table, but how they are prepared tells a lot about where we come from. In the Atlantic northeast, the turkey is often stuffed with clams and mussels. In Louisiana, they deep fry the turkey (I am not kidding); in the south west United States, the Latin American influence is evident with salsas and tortillas as part of the meal. A German friend had no difficulty recognizing that my Grandmother’s recipe for Cranberry Sauce seemed to be a variation on a typical German fruit compote.
Since Thanksgiving can be customized, everyone gladly celebrates it. It is the one day of the year when at about 4pm there is no one outdoors; everyone is inside, either finishing a meal or just sitting down to one. And it’s not just food. Many other things we consider to quintessentially American – like baseball, which is of English origin, or blue jeans “bleu de Genes” which gets its names from two Swiss brothers – are actually derived from somewhere else.
So, what makes any of us a citizen of our country, or any country? Let’s be honest, a passport is an administrative document and one that everyone needs – or needs to be able to obtain. Being American – or any other nationality – has more to do with values, culture and loyalty – even patriotism – than where a person or his parents were born. Indeed, one need not be an American citizen to serve in our military, but we offer a path to citizenship for foreigners who do.
In closing, I’d just like to say that as citizens of the world we should not be bound by narrow views of nationality, rather we should embrace the diversity and richness that people of all backgrounds bring to our countries.
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