While Americans at home were celebrating the United States' 233rd year of Independence with parades, BBQs and fireworks, Americans abroad were enjoying their own patriotic fete. Americans living in places as diverse as Mexico, Montevideo, Botswana, Thailand, England, Macedonia and Lesotho shared their stories and pictures with The Huffington Post.
From Acting Public Affairs Officer Leanne Cannon:
To celebrate U.S. Independence Day, the U.S. Consulate General in Monterrey, Mexico, organized a 10K race open to anyone who wanted to participate. The Consulate partnered with Pronatura Noreste, a Mexican not-for-profit organization that works on environmental conservation in the northeast of Mexico, to plan the race, which was the 1st "green" race in Mexico. Race registrations reached the planned limit of 1,500 during the week prior, and hundreds of other Mexicans and Americans attended the race as spectators and volunteers.
From Sara Devlin, Public Diplomacy officer:
The U.S. Embassy in Maseru, Lesotho, decided to celebrate Independence Day on Wednesday, July 1. We did it early this year because in Lesotho, Saturdays are reserved for family and out of town trips. Having our event on a Wednesday ensured us a large crowd. We were concerned about the weather, but July 1 dawned cold and sunny, warming up to a "sweater only" temperature by noon, when our event was held.
At 11 am, all Embassy staff members were at their stations at the Ambassador's residence. Some worked the sign-in table, others escorted guests to meet the Ambassador, still others mingled with the arriving guests, making sure everyone had plenty of food and drink while waiting for the official program to begin. The Ambassador's back yard was set up for the official program, with three red and blue tents to provide shelter for the guests and the food, and plenty of red, white, and blue decorations, including lots of American flags.
Guests began arriving as early as 11:30, and by about 12:30 we were ready to begin the formal program. The Ambassador delivered prepared remarks focusing on what freedom means to the U.S. and highlighting the U.S. government's three flagship programs in Lesotho: Peace Corps, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, and the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. The remarks were followed by a toast, and then one of the Embassy officers led the singing of the National Anthem. The same format was then followed by the acting Minister of Foreign Affairs from Lesotho. When the remarks, toasts, and anthems were complete, the crowd of over 350 people was invited to enjoy themselves listening to an all-Americana music collection and eating and drinking with their friends and colleagues.
It was a very busy day for those of us who work at the Embassy, but a rewarding one.
From Robert Zimmerman, Public Affairs Officer in Montevideo:
"Why don't you promote woman's boxing,?" asked a co-worker at the U.S. Embassy in Montevideo, where we both work. He had just brought to my attention news of a Montevideo boxing match featuring an American woman champion and her opponent, an Uruguayan up-and-comer. To little avail, I explained that as the embassy press and cultural officer, I highlight the positive side of U.S. culture and politics; scenes of Uruguayan and American women bloodying one another just wouldn't help our image. "But you could reach real people by promoting woman's boxing, not the folks you usually entertain at your wine and cheese parties," was the reply.
Many people assume diplomatic functions are staid affairs at which foreign government officials entertain one another with idle chit chat. Sometimes that description is correct. But these events are work. Important local contacts seldom refuse an American Embassy function. Attendance by U.S. officials is obligatory, especially if the Ambassador is doing the inviting.
The Embassy's annual Fourth of July is the granddaddy of American diplomatic functions. Practically every U.S. mission around the world holds a major event to commemorate the founding of our country. In Uruguay, we invite about 1000 guests each year; more than half that number attend. This number might not seem especially especially large, but consider that one in every 3000 Uruguayans gets an invitation. Imagine a foreign embassy in Washington sending invitations to one in every 3000 Americans? The result would be 100,000 potential invitees, a crowd too large even for Washington's baseball stadium to handle.
I appreciate our annual Fourth of July event because we mingle with a lot of Uruguayan guests who are "alumni" of U.S. government-sponsored visitors program. A lot of prominent invitees toured the United States years ago, often for the first time, at our government's invitation and expense when they were junior politicians, government employees, activists, and teachers. Many have since moved to the top of their professions, and are good friends of the United States.
For over 60 years, the United States has invited tens of thousands of foreign nationals to our country for month-long programs on topics ranging from "grass roots democracy" to "trade and development," Our invitees usually visit 3-5 cities. Once in the US, we give them an honest picture of American society: they meet politicians, businessmen, teachers, the whole gamut. And they are usually treated to dinner in the home of a "real and typical" American family (we call this "home hospitality"). Thousands more study at the university level in the U.S., also with Uncle Sam's support, for periods ranging from a semester to several years.
Our leadership-picking track record is pretty good. Last Sunday Uruguayans voted for the candidates they want to represent their three major parties in presidential elections to be held in October. Nearly all the contenders had visited the United States as American government invitees. Uruguay's current president is also a former official U.S. visitor.
The Embassy's Fourth of July celebration is open to other types of contacts, whom I call "strivers" and "proud parents." About five percent of Uruguayans are of African descent; yet only one member of parliament and just one attorney in the entire country (!) are of Afro-Uruguayan heritage. The Fulbright Scholarship Program, which the United States sponsors, paid the expenses to enable this promising attorney to study English from scratch and pursue a masters degree in law from a university in the United States. He returned to Uruguay recently with his degree but cannot find work in his field. This attorney cum-Fulbright Scholar wouldn't tell me why when we met last week but I can guess the reason. I'll talk to him about it on the Fourth of July.
The "proud parent" is my way of referring to Uruguayans who realize their dream of sending their children to the United States. An American university degree is exceptionally prestigious here, but four years of study in the U.S. is beyond the means of most Uruguayans. Fortunately, a number of philanthropic Americans are helping pay the bill for students from this country to study in the United States, largely through the efforts of a very generous former U.S. Ambassador to this country. At our Fourth of July party, I will talk at length to the parents of one such student, a sophomore attending a university in Los Angeles on full scholarship.
Absent an interest in Uruguay, American secondary and university students are not likely to learn about this country. On the other hand, virtually all Uruguayans seem to know something about the United States. Sadly, their opinion is often shaped by rumor, propaganda, or by movies and sitcoms which place our country in a less-than-favorable light. I have worked in six foreign capitals since joining the Foreign Service in 1993 and wherever I have been, large segments of society seem to think television programming reflects the American reality. Meeting Uruguayans who know our country first hand, rather than through the mass media, makes my Fourth of July duties here worthwhile and satisfying.
I never attended the Montevideo women's boxing match. The visiting American champion, I'm told, lost the boxing match handily to her Uruguayan opponent.