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My Venezuelan 4th of July

Posted by Elena del Valle on June 14, 2010

By Hilda Luisa Díaz-Perera

Hilda Luisa Díaz-Perera*

I knew it was the 4th. Yesterday had been the 3rd, so I was positive today was the 4th. I thought about the American Embassy in Caracas and regretted I had not yet registered there. They were probably hosting a celebration for American citizens living in the capital. I couldn’t explain why today my vocal chords had locked themselves on the words of Home on the Range quietly singing them away in my throat. The day had started out very early as it usually did for me: I had brought the dog down to the yard where he began to bark back at another invisible barking dog hiding somewhere in the dawn’s early light.

I had had my breakfast, not with my American Folgers, since I had had no time before I left the States to buy some to bring with me. I sat down at my sewing machine and got busy finishing the kitchen curtains. The 4th faded slowly away into the stitches, the minutes, the hours, the barking dog and my cat Maggie. Home on the Range had survived my busy-ness and indeed, the skies had not been cloudy all day. At 5 pm my oldest sister in-law called to invite us for dinner at a wonderful restaurant in Playa El Agua that stands right on the sand. From the terrace, you can see the wide expanse of ocean and your ears become full of the sound of the waves.

It was early for Venezuelan dinnertime, so the restaurant was empty except for the long table at the back where there were more than 20 people, all family, awaiting us. Everyone got up and went into the Hispanic greeting frenzy of kissing and re-kissing and hugging each other. My husband and I took the two empty chairs and ended up facing the massive, huge grey ocean. Row after row of long advancing waves landed smoothly and softly on the beach. The ocean looked like molten lead, turning into water hills, moving heavily, driving itself into the sand in splashes of white foam. It reminded me of something that I couldn’t exactly place.

I kept watching the rows of water, the grey. I ordered from the menu. And still the waves reminded me of something I had seen. Home on the Range still hugged my chords and sang itself into my ears, a lonely song. I thought of my children who I knew were celebrating together in Tampa. Then I thought of the War Memorials in Washington D.C. I could see the oversized statues of the American soldiers at the Korean War Veterans Memorial, shining eerily silver grey under a full moon. From there my mind jumped to the dark grey of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial contrasting with the myriad of bright flowers left daily by the dead soldiers’ family members.

The waves were still thrusting at me, but now the ocean was not empty. It was swarming with US Navy boats full of men heading toward the shore, there were soldiers with rifles held above the water and I could hear the cries, the bullets sizzling by and the explosions that gradually took over the space of Home on the Range until I could not hear it any longer. Had I seen this in Washington D.C.? No, this was D-Day playing itself out for me in this distant grey ocean on an overcast early evening! I felt my eyes welled with tears. I fought the heaving knot in the middle of my breast and turned around to my youngest sister-in-law’s Cuban husband at the opposite end of the table who designs cars for Ford.

Of those present, the two of us had held American citizenship the longest. “Ralph!” I said raising my margarita glass, “Happy 4th!” He raised his beer bottle and, with a proud smile on his face, returned: Happy 4th! His Cuban-Venezuelan-American children looked up, raised their Cokes and piped together: “Happy 4th”; then my second youngest sister-in-law, a twin who lives in Atlanta, married to one of the news editors of Spanish CNN, and her two Venezuelan-American daughters chimed in: “Happy Fourth! We all laughed, and then the laughing subsided and there was silence. I went back to my conversation with my oldest sister-in law, but I couldn’t recapture its thread.

In the background, with the crashing waves, I could hear a young squeaky voice singing by itself, something I did not recognize. I could not distinguish the words; I could not recognize the distorted melody sung off key. Another voice joined in and then another older voice that made the words understandable and gave affirmation to the wavering childlike melody: …“By the dawn’s early light…,” I thought I heard. Then my twin sisters-in law joined the improvised but now solid choir: “Whose broad stripes and bright stars…;” then the girls: “And the rockets’ red glare.…”  By then, my husband and I were singing loudly and proudly: “For the land of the free, and the home of the brave!” When I finally remembered we were in the restaurant, I looked around and half our table was standing up, hands on our hearts and teary-eyed. So were the tables around us: Happy 4th! Happy Venezuelan 4th!

*Photo courtesy of Hilda Luisa Díaz-Perera

The author holds a M.A. from the University of Miami. She is a free-lance writer and the editor of http://jose-marti.org and http://unacuartilla.wordpress.com. A similar article was published July 5, 2008 in the author’s blog.

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