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Picnics, flags, fireworks -- and immigrant roots

DEAR Son, As you will be out of the United States this July 4, I thought I would tell you a little about the mood here.

In our own little town, as in many small communities across the country, we will celebrate with the annual parade down streets specially lined with American flags.

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There will be bands, and decorated floats, and the local Scouts and baseball team. Our town's big yellow fire engines will be riding in there, polished and gleaming for the event, festooned with kids, horns blaring.

A few antique cars will lurch and sputter along; there will be clowns on unicycles and homemade stilts and dogs in red-white-and-blue ruffs not quite sure why they are in the parade, but determined to enjoy it.

Kids on the floats will throw candy to kids lining the streets, and probably the prize for best float will go again to the girls from the local seafood restaurant dressed up in their crimson lobster suits dancing to a portable amplifier.

To remind us that there is a serious note underlying all this, the town's selectmen will stride self-consciously along, and some balding, portly gentlemen who did daring and sometimes dangerous things for their country in wars gone by will have tugged themselves into their old military uniforms.

There will be picnics and fireworks as well, and for those who still have the capacity, a pancake breakfast at the firehouse next morning.

The big celebration is down in New York for the 100th birthday of the Statue of Liberty. The fellows from Hollywood are orchestrating that, and when Hollywood and New York get together, the glitz quotient is fairly high.

Thus there will be thousands of balloons and fireworks, and choirs and doves and cannon salutes, and tall ships, and 200 Elvis Presley look-alikes who have somehow been woven into the pageant of American history.

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There are Statue of Liberty coins and medals and mugs and earrings and shower curtains. There are replicas of the Statue of Liberty in metal and plaster and plastic and, less lastingly, in chocolate.

Some people say this has injected a tacky theme into an otherwise memorable event, and they have a point.

But deep down there is something moving about this typically American commemoration. In itself, the statue is just a statue -- 225 tons of iron and concrete and copper standing 305 feet tall. But the lady with the beckoning torch is a symbol of the promise and opportunity that many millions have found in this nation made up of immigrants.

Some of your letters from Oxford this summer have reported the opposition in Britain to American policies. Europeans have the right to dissent from Washington's view, just as Americans are vigorously critical of Europeans from time to time.

But I think it is fair to say that no country in history has opened its arms so wide, and on such a scale, to citizens of other countries than the United States.

It was brilliant to welcome the Poles and the Irish and the Italians and the Germans and the Chinese and all the others, for their talents and industry have made America great. Later came the Cubans and the Koreans and the Vietnamese and the Cambodians.

But calculated though the strategy may have been in part, intertwined with it was an American openness and generosity that wanted others to share in the American promise, and wanted others to enjoy the liberty symbolized by the statue.

Of course, the statue only symbolizes opportunity, it does not fulfill it. That is a task yet to be accomplished for many Americans who find a hollow note in these celebrations, against the background of their own need.

And though freedom is clearly gaining around the world, the globe is peopled by people for whom liberty is still a distant dream.

We have a long distance to go.

But this continuing American belief that mankind deserves better, and should get the opportunity to achieve it, is deeply touching.



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