Each year the U.S. Embassy tries to bring the fun and festivities that Americans enjoy during the Fourth of July to our friends in the Republic of Korea. The Fourth of July is a time for Americans from all walks of life to get together to barbecue, watch fireworks shows, and celebrate our nation’s independence. America’s Independence Day is a unifying holiday in our history that, like Thanksgiving, isn’t tied to specific religious or cultural beliefs, but rather the celebration of our country’s Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. This year’s Fourth of July was the 241st since the United States declared its independence.
Although the U.S. Embassy is located in Seoul, as the U.S. Mission to the Republic of Korea, we warmly embrace opportunities to represent the United States throughout the country. Traditionally we have hosted Fourth of July celebrations in both Seoul and Busan, but this summer we also decided to hold one in Gwangju. Gwangju is a very important regional center with its own unique and meaningful historical and cultural traditions, so we thought Gwangju would be a great choice in expanding the normal circle of people who experience the Fourth of July with us in South Korea.
We had a great time at all of our celebrations this year. In Seoul, we enjoyed catering from great American brands like Baskin Robbins and McDonalds while being treated to performances by the Epilogue Vocal Group, the 8th Army Band, the Jazzfeel dancers, artist Da In, and DJ Scoop. In Busan, we watched the U.S. Navy Color Guard display our flag and listened to a short speech by Busan City Hall’s Ambassador for International Relations, Mr. Hong Seong-hoa. In Gwangju, Metropolitan City Mayor Yoon Jang-hyeon delivered warm remarks before we enjoyed a series of performances by an American bluegrass group, an a capella group, and a b-boy group. It felt great to take our Independence Day celebration to a new place, and we are looking forward to doing it again next summer.
Besides eating delicious hot dogs and hamburgers and enjoying the pageantry, we should also remember the serious historical event that underpins the holiday. The U.S. Declaration of Independence, adopted by the Second Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, proclaimed that the thirteen American colonies would no longer be subject to the rule of Great Britain’s King George III, but instead regard themselves as 13 newly independent sovereign states (hence the term, “United States”). The 56 courageous people who signed the document knew they were identifying themselves to the British as insurrectionists and were thereby effectively signing their own death warrants; but they chose to make the sacrifice in the name of liberty and with the hope of creating a society free of tyranny.
The signatories of the Declaration were not the only Americans ready and willing to risk their lives to liberate their nation. When the Second Continental Congress moved that the Declaration of Independence be widely distributed on January 18, 1777, Mary Katherine Goddard was one of the first to offer the use of her printing press. In spite of the risks of being associated with what was considered a treasonable document by the British, she not only produced many copies of the Declaration, but she also boldly emblazoned her own name on the bottom of the document for all to see.
It’s not only the birth of the United States, but the bravery of its founders and their commitment to making a better world that we celebrate on the Fourth of July. We are both proud and honored to share this special holiday – and moment in our history – with the people of South Korea.