So yes, America’s birthday just passed yesterday. I’ve spent the past ten July 4ths in Massachusetts, celebrating the holiday like it was some kind of mid summer Christmas. Yesterday was no exception. The early part of the day was spent eating hamburgers while wearing one of my American flag t-shirts. The latter part of the day I went to watch the fireworks in Winthrop.
Every July 4th, I think about my journey to becoming an American and how that’s not really how it was supposed to be. I was born in Poland and at best, what life had set out for me was to speak English relatively well, not to adopt an entirely new identity unto myself.
Becoming an American full on was also a slow process. I got my green card when I was ten and could have become an American citizen when I was 15, but I steadfastly refused. I went to a high school where the principal, Frank Ehrhart mispronounced and laughed at my last name every time he had to present me with my honor roll certificate. I certainly did not want to be a part of a place that thought my name was funny and that my achievements didn’t even deserve the proper mention.
Twenty years passed before I became an American citizen. Becoming an American citizen is still one of the proudest moments of my life and one of the funniest episodes ever. There was this really young man, maybe 16, next to me from the Dominican Republic getting his citizenship the same time as me. He turned to me and said he didn’t know the words to the Star Spangled Banner. I told him they were up on the big screen in front of us. Then he asked me for my phone number. Oh and we got this video with George W. Bush, looking young and ready for the presidency. It looked like the video had been made on his first day on the job, before his energy had been sapped and the stresses of the job had really gotten to him.
Not too long after becoming a citizen, two interesting things happened. I moved to Massachusetts, the most American place out there and I started working with international students. Both of these things made me more American. When I tell the international students about history, I say “we” fought a war against the British. Nobody thought “we” would win. “We” had a weaker army. Technically its not “we” because my forebears weren’t British or American, rather probably in Germany or Russia, or even Poland, which would disappear from the map not too soon after the American revolution.
This year though, the thinking about being an American has particular poignancy. Here we are two years into a Trump presidency. Just writing that makes me feel like I’m living in a Simpson’s episode. I don’t want to set off some kind of firestorm here or get hate mail but we’re now a country with child internment camps with quotes from the Art of the Deal on the walls. Trump picked a fight with Canada. CANADA. With the adorable prime minister with the tattoos and the progressive politics. Every news story shows a country that is getting uglier by the minute.
Yet somehow I see a bright spot in here. I know, but stay with me. I recently started teaching a law student about the American legal system, which is really just an excuse for me to go on about how much I love Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I know this is cool these days, but hey, count me in.
I’m relatively late to the Ruth Bader Ginsburg love fest, but I’m now firmly part of it. It all started over at my wonderful feminist gym, where they advertise a class where you can do the same work out that Ruth Bader Ginsburg does. I thought this was great, because I knew she was a feminist icon, but I didn’t realize how much of an icon. Oh and that she can do 20 pushups at 85 years old. I’m nearly half her age and I can’t even do one push up.
I thought I knew a fair amount about Justice Ginsburg, but lately I’ve delved more into her background. There’s a fabulous interview she did with CNN, where she walks into the room and they play “Notorious” by the Notorious BIG. Her internet moniker is the Notorious RBG and she embraces the title and loves the comparisons to the late rapper. There’s one part in particular where she is asked if she always wanted to be a justice on the Supreme Court or even a judge. She says that when she was growing up, even aspiring to be a lawyer as a woman was outside of the realm of possibility. She was one of nine women in a law school class of 500 men when she graduated. The odds were not in her favor.
I also particularly love her friendship with Justice Antonin Scalia. You couldn’t find two people who were more opposite. The Notorious RBG is all about the constitution as a living document. Scalia thought you should follow the constitution word for word. But there are a lot of videos of her and “Nino” just being great friends and getting along really well, which is so admirable in a time when bipartisanship doesn’t exist anymore. Ruth Bader Ginsburg says its important for the court to be collegial and for the most part they get along because that makes it easier for them to reach decisions.
So as I got to thinking about what America is, I decided to look at the example of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. How much more of an American story can you have? The daughter of immigrants, who was Jewish, a woman, a mother who became a Supreme Court justice? And not just any Supreme Court justice but one with her own theme songs and memes about her??? Its not just a story about perseverance but also of realizing the possibilities from a potentiality. Vartan Gregorian said that America is a potentiality and I completely believe that.
Anyway, enough talk. Let’s see some photos. This year I broke tradition and I went to the fireworks in Winthrop, which is this lovely seaside community where a good friend of mine lives. A good friend who just became an American herself.
Winthrop and the Fireworks: