I spent my first Fourth of July in the newsroom, and I do not regret a single minute of it. In a sentence, my Fourth was about getting the stories of people on the streets, watching the fireworks, and getting to know some of the reporters in the newsroom.
1. This post is really long.
2. I have not used the names of the people I spoke to.
3. There are pictures of fireworks at the end.
As part of the paper’s July Fourth coverage, us few reporters who had volunteered to be at the newsroom went out to collect vignettes (side note: normally, I would have called them really short stories, but the word ‘vignette’ has become my new favourite, thanks to our editor).
My goal was to get the stories of international students on campus. I knew I could not be the only one experiencing her first taste of the American Independence Day. With that in mind, I set off towards the Quad, the one place I knew I would definitely find someone willing to say more than “yeah, it’s no big deal to me” (I got that from a few friends in town when I called them to find out what they were up to).
The first person I spoke to was a German girl. I could tell she did not like being interrupted from reading her gossip magazine. However, she was polite enough to talk to me for a couple of minutes. Turns out, she is a ’06 Mizzou graduate, has since visited the U.S once every year and wants to visit all 50 states. At the time when I gave her an unwelcome break from reading, she was waiting for her friend (whom she was visiting) to get off work. At that point, she said, “Nice talking to you.” I took my cue and leave.
As I walked past the Engineering building, I saw a couple racing towards Jesse Hall and a small child running behind them (the guy won). By the time I got to them, they were sitting on the steps of Jesse Hall catching their breath. Two things: 1. The kid was completely disenchanted by me. That has never happened to me before! 2. I wish I had asked the couple their number because I would have loved to speak to them again, outside the capacity of a reporter.
Their story: He is a Syrian, working as a senior economist in a local company. She is half-Danish and half-American, but (in her words) identifies more with her Danish side. She currently lives in Springfield because she is studying to take a licensing exam to become a psychiatrist. Their two-year old son lives with his dad because his mom can’t take care of him and study. She visits them on weekends and holidays. The Fourth, for them, was more about celebrating family than America. Some of things they told me that was surprisingly real and human. Things like how the day is not necessarily happy for everyone and it is day to celebrate the people, regardless of who the people are.
I also spoke to a Taiwanese family of four who were visiting a 92-year old family friend. The parents are ’92 MU graduates. The family friend is the same woman who took care of the parents when they were students. The mother said, “We have brought our daughters with us to meet our friend so they can thank her.” Their Fourth of July celebration consisted of having a very American meal: grilled steak, corn on the cob, sausages and strawberry shortcake.
The next vignette I got was a really small one. I ran into a couple who looked interesting. The only interesting thing about them I found out in our (approximately) three-minute long conversation was that they do something different for every Independence Day. The year before, they were in Colorado. This year, Columbia. I wonder what they did the year before Colorado..
I walked away and into three college-age kids. Their celebration started the night before with a house party ending, in their words, at 7 a.m. on July 4. They had plans on attending another house party that night. It was not really a vignette but it got me thinking about the differences in celebrating the independence days of America and India. In America, it’s (mostly) about the barbecues and the fireworks. In India, it’s (mostly) about the parades and political discussions.
The last vignette of the day was from a couple of homeless men. Sitting in front of a store on Ninth Street, they told me how they took care of the people on their turf, jumping in when trouble brews. They introduced me to a couple of their friends who came up while I was talking to them. What struck me the most was how matter-of-fact they were about food. M said, “Days are either feasts or famines.” D showed me the small pizza, the Dr. Pepper and glass of lemon water he had gotten from three different passersby that day. What about that Fourth of July stood out to them? The fact that they had food to eat.
About the fireworks
The fireworks show was the 61st Fire in the Sky show organized by the city’s Parks and Recreation commission. I took the pictures from my phone. The only editing done is the cropping of some of the pictures.