The Fourth in Alameda

Posted on July 5, 2007


I hate July 4th. Many people will say that and do the barbecues or watch the fireworks; not me, I boycott. I never liked the holiday much, anyway; at first because fireworks are such a letdown and then you have a whole bunch of sulpherous smelly crap to clean up and not even any presents. I usually ignore the holiday completely, but after a seeming eternity under Bush–I’ve just been angry from the moment I woke up.

Fortunately, I have a lot of work to do today. I’m way behind on a deadline. Unfortunately, there is no food in the house. So I had to venture out. For those of you who follow this blog religeously, you’ll note that I live in Alameda now–an island hamlet just a short shot through the Posey Tube from downtown Oakland, and though it isn’t really seperate from Oakland, bumping up right next to the airport, it somehow feels like living in a completely different kind of community.

Its an odd place. Not a real island, nor a real city, nor a real suburb–it reminds more of one of those enchanted, cloud obscured cities in Orientalist lore, reached through a long, arduous mountain ascent, where people live forever and are communists, but nice about it. Its pig-iron American pedigree comes from its long history of being a naval station until the post cold war downsize came. You can still see ancient merchant marines in some of the older establishments here, their forearms blurred with indigo anchors and wide-hipped ladies and unfurled banners bearing long-forgotten professions and beliefs.

The island is divided in an unlikely set of demographics–twenty something professionals settling down to raise their families, old school white trash folks from the tender time when their kind ruled the East Bay, the traditional Alameda middle-class aristocracy, a smattering of extremely wealthy people in large ivy ensconced houses. But most importanlty, I think, there is a new wave of upwardly mobile foreign-born professionals and entrepeneurs carving out an ethnic niche here. Like many of the old white enclaves of the East Bay–such as San Leandro, where I grew up–Alameda has become the incubator for what will probably be the ruling class of the next life’s American polity–children of the foreign born and their children.

So this is what I’m getting at. I went out around noon to get a bite to eat. Its been a long time since I lived anywhere with anything like a parade, but there it was churning its way up my street and making a bee line for the main drag, intersecting with my only hope of finding an open eatery. I was vaguely prepared for something like this. Demographically shift all you want America, white folks with deep roots are going to be in charge for a long time to come. This was an old school, middle american, Norman-freakin-Rockwell parade, it was just getting started and the streets were lined with people. Casting bad vibes omnidirectionally, I set out with little luck, block after parading block.

Claiming, as I do, to be a writer, I couldn’t help but make a few observations. First, the crowd was huge. Say what you want about the unpopularity of the Iraq occupation, no one it seemed was sharing my boycott of this hypocritical exttravaganza. People had brought their own chairs, the sidewalks were thick with bodies. But what was interesting was that many of them–maybe even most of them–weren’t white, were probably not even born in this country.

I’ll confess to not being smart enough to figure this one out. There’s something to be said for fitting in, of course. I don’t consider myself American for a lot of reasons not readily apparent, but that doesn’t mean I don’t respect the desire of others to assimilate. Obesity, baseball, American Idol, ambient bigotry and market-driven hard-heartedness, I understand. But 4th of July? What foreign-born person would come out to watch a parade for a holiday celebrated by a population that seems to hate every other nation on earth?

I’m not sure I can answer, but as I walked I felt a certain tug at the spirit. Looking down at the sidewalk sullenly I could not dispel the feeling. It was even stronger because so many of these faces were brown, were Pilipino, Chinese, Vietnamese, Gujarat, Bengali, Pakistani, maybe even Palestinian, or Colombian. Out on a hot day with hot dogs and cokes, and slurpees and ice creams, and toddlers dancing to the beat of a middle school marching band, and horses and the leotarded children from a local tumbling academy, and the old cars, and the old fire engines and the clowns and the conga float.

I sat in a lonely little diner, the door had to be shut because of the fumes from the horse shit. Sparsely inhabited, dark, quiet but for the muffled parade sounds. I bought a paper so I wouldn’t have to watch the parade go by, but I watched it anyway and ate my tasteless meal of desecated hashbrowns and over, over-easied eggs, and oily coffee.

The parade crowd had only grown while I was inside, and I had to break past a set of bleachers on the way back. As I neared my home, the military float passed. Composed, somewhat overly ironically, of two battle-fatigued men. Their trigger-fingers were set upon their down-pointed automatic weapons and they were followed by a moldy looking humvee that looked cheap and inauthentic. I wanted to spit at them, but there was a round of applause, just slightly greater than tepid, as they passed, and I didn’t dare risk it. Getting my ass beat by a bunch of flag-waiving Pilipinos on Independence Day would just be a little too much at the moment.