With the 4th of July approaching us, I sit and ponder on the meaning of this celebration. Everyone is decorating with red, white, and blue and preparing for picnics and barbeques. Beautiful desserts will be made that resemble the American flag. Parades will be held. Firework displays will fill the skies. For many, it’s just a summer celebration. For me it’s a time to reflect on what it is we are truly celebrating.
Now that we are living in England I have learned some facts of how the British people view the 4th of July. In essence, they don’t think much of our holiday. It’s really not taught in their schools. Some of them refer to our Revolutionary war as the Civil War. It was viewed back then as an act of treason. Others think of it as just another mishap or incident with a colony. The year 1776 is really not even mentioned. Testimony to this was the ride my children and I took at London’s Madame Tussauds Wax museum. The ride explains British History throughout the centuries. The ride passes through historical exhibits going from the 1200’s through the 1600’s, and then it mysteriously skips the 1700’s, resuming once again in the 1800’s Industrial revolution. My children found this quite interesting.
To me, the Declaration of Independence was not just about 13 colonies feeling mistreated by the crown, and choosing to become an independent and sovereign nation. To think that these 13 colonies would take on a world power like England was at the time in of itself an amazing feat. What strikes me the most was the determination of our founding fathers to establish a nation in which we are entitled to “unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness”, unalienable meaning impossible to take away or give up. You have to realize that not all nations offer this. Furthermore, that our Constitution has survived 236 years is an incredible accomplishment. Of course we have made amendments to it but it stands to reason that it was and continues to be an amazing document. The United States is the country with the longest running constitution. Many countries and regimes have rewritten or abolished their constitutions.
We as Americans are quite privileged to live in a country where we are allowed to speak our mind, where we can criticize our government without fear of being incarcerated, where we can protest something we don’t approve of. We live in a democracy where we have the luxury of electing our government officials. We live in a country, in a culture that permits us to have choice. How wonderful, to feel this empowerment. Sure, there have been recessions, scandals, and presidencies we may not totally approve of but even with its ups and downs, The United States of America is still the country of opportunity. It is a country where if you are born the child of a maid, you can aspire to be something other than a maid. My liberal friends would beg to differ and argue that not everyone enjoys equal opportunities in the United States. This is a topic that we could develop into a doctorate dissertation. Perhaps I am too naïve and optimistic to feel that if you work hard enough in the United States you can make something of yourself. I compare the social structure in the US to that of Colombia. In Colombia, it is still pretty much like the caste system in India. If you are born into a certain social class, it is very difficult to break out of that social class.
One of the aspects I appreciate the most about international travel and reading about people from other countries and cultures, is that it teaches me to better understand and be more accepting of others. Perhaps the biggest lesson in life for me has been that by observing the conditions of others around the world that has allowed me to better appreciate the countries that I have lived in. When I come across countries that are unsafe, unjust, oppressive, economically unstable, or not open-minded to different ethnic groups or religions, it reaffirms my conviction that everyone should be entitled to the rights of life, liberty, and happiness, and also to the right of “choice”.
So I’d like to share with you a little bit about two worldwide figures that inspire me this 4th of July, this day of celebration of our freedoms that we take for granted everyday. I am deeply inspired by two heroic international women. The first woman you may be very familiar with, she has been in our headlines since 1990. The second woman has made her contributions since the late 90’s and has become more mainstream in the media since 2005.
- Aung San Suu Kyi led the democratic movement in her country of Burma (Myanmar) that opposed the Burmese military government in charge at the time. In 1990, her party the National League for Democracy (NLD) won 59% of the votes in the elections. However, the military nullified the elections and refused to hand over power. Suu Kyi was put under house arrest for 15 years out of the last 21 because she was supposedly considered a threat to the peace and stability of the country. Instead, she went on to become a worldwide symbol of democracy and of the fight against oppression. Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights. She was not able to receive the prize in person because of her house arrest. She not only sacrificed herself for the cause, but her family as well. She lived apart from her English husband and two sons since the house arrest. The Burmese government wanted her to leave Burma hoping to then deny her re-entry into the country. Instead she chose to not abandon the Burmese people and stayed her course. Even when her husband was dying of cancer in 1999 he was still denied an entry visa into Burma. Suu Kyi was never able to see her husband again. Her husband had always been very supportive of the Burmese democratic movement. After enormous worldwide pressure, the Burmese government finally released Suu Kyi in 2010. She ran for office in 2012, and finally in April of this year she won a seat in parliament. Just a few days ago, on June 16th of this year, Suu Kyi finally delivered her Nobel Prize acceptance speech in Oslo, Norway, in what was considered to be one of the most amazing moments in the history of Nobel Prizes. She was also finally reunited with her two sons whom she had not seen in 24 years. During her 2-week tour in Europe she met with political leaders of Switzerland, Norway, Ireland, England, and France where she was cheered for her pro-democracy efforts and was treated like a head of state. She continues to champion Burma’s transition from military rule to a democracy. You can read more about her in the many books that are available. In 2010, Aung San Suu Kyi published Letters from Burma. Her story has inspired many authors to write about her, the most recent being, The Lady and The Peacock, by Peter Popham.A
- Fawzia Koofi is an inspiring Afghanistani woman who has been not only a women’s rights activist but also became a parliament member in 2005. She now aspires to run for president of Afghanistan in 2014. Fawzia has received many death threats and attempts from the Taliban but she continues to fight for what she believes in. Fawzia has written a wonderful memoir called The Favored Daughter. In the book she shares letters she has written to her two daughters, Shaharzad and Shuhra. In these letters she is inspiring but also realistic and pragmatic. She navigates us through her last 30 years in Afghanistan. When Fawzia was born, because she was born a daughter and not a son, so she was put outside in the sun to let nature take its course. But even then she showed her determination, and although she was severely burnt by the sun, she had survived her first 24 hours in such harsh conditions. The fellow women in the family pitied her and returned her to her mother. Her mother made a vow to ensure she would give her daughter the best life the she could. Fawzia’s grandfather and father had been parliament members representing one of the most remote regions of Afghanistan. Life in the 60’s and early 70’s under the monarchy and parliament appeared peaceful and fairly modern in the bigger cities. However, in 1973, there was a coup d’état that led to the dismantling of the parliament and suspension of the constitution. Her father was imprisoned and later killed for speaking against the new establishment. What followed were the years of Russian communism and the Soviet war in the 80’s, while the mujahideen grew stronger in power leading to their eventual takeover by 1995. Although, Fawzia had completed high school and started medical school during the war years, she was not able to complete her studies because the Taliban prevented women from getting an education. Unable to continue her education she focused her work on women’s rights. After the fall of the Taliban, Fawzia completed her degrees in business and in law. In 2005, the first elected parliament in 33 years was put in place. Fawzia Koofi made history by becoming the first woman Second Deputy Speaker of the Parliament. Her contributions in the area of human rights have been numerous. She continues to champion women and children’s causes. Fawzia continues to strive to make Afghanistan a better place for her daughters and others. She hopes to become the next President of Afghanistan. For further reading, read A Favored Daughter by Fawzi Koofi and visit http://www.fawziakoofi.org/mission.html and http://www.fawziakoofi.org/
These are the two women who are inspiring me on this 4th of July. Their experiences help me appreciate where I live in and the societies that I am part of. As I think of my children, I am grateful because I am raising them in environments, both here in the US and abroad in which they have rights, unalienable rights, of life, liberty, happiness, and choice.
Happy Fourth of July!!!!