Here we are again, celebrating America's 237th birthday. And while we all associate this day with barbecue, beer and fireworks, I want to take a step back and reflect what it means to me, to our family. Being French and having two American born children, there are some obvious connections between the two countries I lived in. They both shared an ideal of equality and freedom, respectively reflected in the Declaration of Independance and Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen.
For the past 11 years, I've lived in a few States, met a lot of people with different backgrounds and stories but there was one thing they could all agree on: they all felt American and proud of it. And when fourth of July comes around, the feeling is amplified and celebrated, proudly. From the Sri Lankan immigrant with a tattooed eagle on his arm to the 4th generation Irish-American, they all are part of one nation.
Last time I felt this unison back in France was... 15 years ago. The French national soccer team won the World Cup on July 12, 1998. Two days later, France was celebrating Bastille Day. From the smallest village square to the Champs Elysées in Paris, the country was a Nation again. No differences were made, the blue-white-red flag was seen everywhere and huge celebrations lasted for a few days. For all intents and purposes, we were French.
Unfortunately, it didn't last long and we were back to square one. The country never seized the opportunity to capitalize and rebuild the relationship with its growing immigrant-based citizens. The French flag and Marianne, highly symbolic, were retaken by the National Front, the heinous right wing "party". The culminating point being the shocking 2002 presidential runoff between its leader, Jean-Marie Lepen and the Republican party candidate, Jacques Chirac. The latter won the elections with an overwhelming score (above 80%), but the damage was done. Once symbol of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, the French flag was demonized.
For that one magical night however, I saw youngsters and elder alike embracing it, feeling proud. Outside of sports events, one cannot be seen with a flag and not be labelled a nationalist. I would call it all but nationalist.
I left France shortly after I was naturalized in 2001. Of course, I was happy but to be honest, I didn't feel much different. For me, it was a key which could open a few more doors. I didn't have any strong bonds with the country's history and was just one of those salvaged refugees for a while. That changed when I came here.
Being in a foreign country, I was "the Frenchie" and had to live with the label people gave me here. But, there was no or little harm done because of that. Well, maybe a little during the whole Iraq thing, but that's over now. America was built by immigrants and that word has a different feel, meaning from what I experienced in France. What I mean to say is, the vast majority of Americans accepted me being different, but only because I made the necessary efforts to be part of it. And just like many young Americans born from immigrant parents, I will make sure my kids understand where their parents come from and not take anything for granted. But I will tell them to respect, cherish and protect their country, just as I learned to do so.