I haven’t done a Jasper the Cat cartoon in a while, so I thought I’d do this short cartoon celebrating the Fourth of July. And I want to reflect on what I love about this country of ours.
I know that this country isn’t perfect. We have a history of slavery, of the genocide of the Native American populations, of imperialistic wars against Mexico, Spain, the Philippines, and other countries. We’re only human, and like all humans, we’ve made some horrendous mistakes.
But we’re also a nation that has tried to improve, to be a better nation. There have all always been Americans who’ve fought to get this country to live up to the ideas of the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, to expand and redefine the concepts of liberty and equality so that they include more and more people. This tradition of reform and civic activism began with our Founding Fathers. Many of our Founding Fathers worked hard to improve our country, through participating in groups that lobbied legislators, wrote pamphlets and newspaper articles to influence public opinion, and taking part in the political process. Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, for instance, were members of the New York Manumission. Dr. Benjamin Rush was founding member of the Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons, a member of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, fought for the fair treatment of the mentally ill, and worked to help people view alcoholism as a medical illness and not a moral failing. Thomas Jefferson fought for the separation of church and state, worked to expand public education, and tried to get legislation passed in the 1770s and 1780s to abolish slavery in the state of Virginia and end the slave trade. Thomas Paine wrote pamphlets favoring the abolition of slavery, for guaranteed income, and for old age pension. This civic activism is one of their greatest gifts to later reformers and activists.
The Founding Fathers wanted American citizens to be involved and informed on the debates of the important issues of the day. This tradition of reform led to the abolitionists, the women’s suffragists, the labor organizers, the civil rights workers, the migrant activists, the feminists, the LGBT rights activists, environmentalists, and the fighters for the poor and disenfranchised. I deeply appreciate their legacy for the freedoms they fought for me, the son of Filipino immigrants who came to this country to find a better way of life. They fought for the opportunities that I take for granted.
Before I die, I want to visit all fifty states of the United States. I’ve only visited thirteen states so far, but the states that I’ve visited have helped me to appreciate the diversity of this country. This is a wonderful country. My wife and I try to visit each state for about two or three weeks, so we could experience some of the different quirks and traditions of each state. We noticed in Massachussetts that there is seemingly a Dunking Donuts in every block. In Alabama and Georgia people seem to love Waffle Houses. Our favorite state is New Mexico, with the Alburquerque Hot Air Balloon Festival and the galleries of Canyon Road in Santa Fe. During the fall, Alburquerque has a hot air balloon festival, where over 700 hot air balloons of all different shapes are launched. When we were in the field watching the balloons get filled and then float in the air, we had a childlike sense of wonder. In Santa Fe, Canyon Road is lined with over 100 galleries and studios, and it’s wonderful taking a walk and looking at the wonderful art. Near Canyon Road is the San Miguel Church, the oldest church structure in the United States. The people were friendly, there were great museums, places to hike, historical places to visit, and beautiful bed and breakfasts to stay at.
Finances are tight, so we probably won’t travel to our next state for a while, but I’ve enjoyed the states we’ve been in so far. While my wife shops, I would often talk to the cashier and ask about the local scenes that we could visit. When we eat at a restaurant, we frequently get into informal conversations with the waiters and waitresses if they aren’t busy with other customers. When we mention our mission to visit all fifty states before we die, the cashiers, waiters and waitresses frequently get excited and they begin to tell of their own dreams of travel. In a Paula Deen restaurant in Savannah, Georgia, a waitress told us of her dream to take a car ride to San Francisco and visit City Lights Bookstore after being inspired by a documentary of Allen Ginsberg. A waiter in Georgia told us of his driving to New York City and enjoying the various haunts along the Eastern coastline. He was planning to ask his girlfriend to marry him and hoped to have his wedding in a beautiful state park in South Carolina (I forgot the name of it) that had an old church. In Taos, a cashier reminisced about a concert in the 1960s where she saw the Beatles (her favorite was Paul) and talked about her trips around Colorado, Nevada and Arizona. In a hike in Kaui, we met a couple from San Francisco who talked about their travels in Georgia, and we became friends and have met several times since then. These conversations gave us leads on places to visit that weren’t found in the Frommers and Fodors books that we check out from the library.
Here are some of the favorite places that we’ve visited.
Last December, we visited Alabama and Georgia, our first foray into the deep South. At first we were a little worried, being an interracial couple and hearing stories from some of our friends of troubles that they’ve had with prejudice in their trips. But we didn’t have any troubles and found everyone really friendly. We traveled by car through Atlanta, Savannah and Birmingham. I had wanted to visit some of the civil rights places, and I got a chance to visit the Martin Luther King Jr. Historical Site in Atlanta and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in Birmingham. In the Martin Luther King Jr. Historical Site is the tomb of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, which was a very reverential place to be at. Overall, though, I thought the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute was a far better museum. While the King site focused mainly on Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King, the Birmingham Institute focused on the entire civil rights struggle and it is next to the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, where 4 girls were killed in a bombing in 1963, and the park where Bull Connor order his police to use waterhoses on student civil rights activists. Our favorite city was Savannah, where we were able to walk around and find a historical spot in almost every block of the city. It was birthplace of Flannery O’ Connor, it has a Revolutionary War cemetary, it is home to the first Girls Scouts headquarters, it has the headquarters of General Sherman, and it has the Mercer Williams House of the book “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”.
I went to Massachussetts before I got married and loved the history of the place. Boston has a wonderful Freedom Trail where one could visit Faneuil Hall, the Old North Church, the King’s Chapel Burying Ground, and other sites of the Revolutionary War. Nearby is Harvard University, which I found that despite being an Ivy League school, doesn’t really have ivy anywhere except in a few dorm buildings. I’m a big Boston Celtic fan, but visited Boston in 2002, too late to see the old Boston Garden. I was unable to visit the Fleet Center, but saw a statue of Red Auerbach sitting on a bench smoking on a cigar. In the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame is a neat statue of Larry Bird in the act of shooting a basketball. The Basketball Hall of Fame was actually kind of disappointing to me, as I found The Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden in Springfield to be far more enjoyable. The Kennedys are heroes of mine, so I had to visit the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library. But my favorite place in Massachussetts is the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge. Stockbridge is a beautiful town, full of lush trees. Seeing Rockwell’s paintings in person was a treat for me, as I got to see the skills in which he applied paint.
Kauia in Hawaii is another favorite of my wife and I. While I like to hike and visit museums and historical sites, my wife likes to hike and shop at local vendors where she could see items native to that area. There are a lot of wonderful places to snorkel and hike in Kauia. One of the things we noticed about Kauia is that there are a lot of chickens walking around the roads. We hiked through the Alakai Swamp Trail, the Waimea Canyon, and the Opaekaa Falls, and they’re all very beautiful trials. What I loved the most was breathing the fresh air.
While I like to travel to different states, my favorite city is San Francisco, about an hours drive from me. I like San Francisco more than my wife does, as she likes New York better. I just love the diversity and the quirkiness of the city, the different ethnic neighborhoods and the culture and the arts of the place. Several years ago, my friend Lupita took my wife and I on a vampire tour where a vampire tour guide showed us all of the famous ghost sitings, famous murder spots, and historical spots. San Francisco has four Diego Rivera murals, and so far I’ve seen one of them, in the San Francisco Art Institute. When I was painting a mural for a public library, I would often go to San Francisco to look at the murals at Coit Tower. My favorite murals in San Francisco are in Mission District. I wrote a blog about it that you could read here.
These travels have helped me to appreciate America more. I don’t know if I’ll make my goal of visiting all fifty states before I die. If it’s possible and within our budget, here are some spots I’d like to visit. After watching the movie Dances With Wolves, I’ve like to see a herd of buffalo in Montana. I want to visit Washington D.C. and see the Vietnam War Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, and go to Congress to see the chairs where Ted Kennedy, John Quincy Adams, Robert Wagner and Robert La Follette sat. I want to visit Monticello and Mt. Vernon. In Pennsylvania, I’d like to visit the Amish country, see the Brandywine River Museum with three generations of Wyeth art, and run up the stairs that Rocky Balboa ran. My wife and I would love to see the Everglades National Park before it dries up and see manatees. A waiter recommended that we hike through parts of the Appalachian Trail. My favorite artist is Thomas Hart Benton and I’d love to see the Thomas Hart Benton murals in the Missouri State Capitol. After watching a Ken Burns documentary on Mark Twain, I’d love to take a boat ride down the Mississippi River. For my Elvis fan brother I’d visit Graceland then drop by the Grand Ole Opry. When we hiked in Arizona and New Mexico, hikers would invariably recommend that we visit Arches National Park and Zion National Park in Utah.
One of the things I most admire about American history is the friendship of Thomas Jefferson and John and Abigail Adams. They were friends who frequently disagreed with each other. They had a falling out in the 1790s, but reconciled due to the efforts of Dr. Benjamin Rush. In their last few years, Jefferson and the Adams had a correspondence where they discusses their differences in topics like the French Revolution, on a strong versus a weak central government, and on the necessity of regulated markets.
One of the ironies of Thomas Jefferson’s and John Adams’ life is that they both died on July 4, 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. As the fiftieth anniversary approached, both men were asked to write something in commemoration. Adams wrote a challenge for America to constantly be vigilant to maintain its values, writing that America was
destined in future history to form the brightest or the blackest page, according to the use or the abuse of those political institutions by which they shall in time to come be shaped by the human mind.
Jefferson wrote a more optimistic commemoration. He wrote:
May it be to the world, what I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all,) the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government… All eyes are opened or opening to the rights of man. The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few, booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God. These are grounds of hope for others; for ourselves, to let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.
If you enjoy this cartoon, take a look at these links for more of my political cartoons at Everyday Citizen:
Jasper Meets Howard Zinn
Jasper and the Nature Poem
Government and the Market Economy
Jasper Joins Two Protests
Bob the Nerd Vampire
Jasper Debates War
Jasper Finds His Way Home
Jasper Escapes the Detention Center
Jasper At A Detention Center
Jasper Meets a Poet
Jasper Tackles Health Care
Jasper Protests the War
Jasper and the Economy
Jasper Sings a Protest Song
The Road To Health Care Reform Cartoon
A Cartoon about the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
A Cartoon about My Experience in an Evangelical Church
A Cartoon about Political Debate
A Cartoon On Gay Marriage
A youtube video of Simon and Garfunkel singing America
A youtube video of Woodie Guthrie singing This Land Is Your Land
A youtube video of a tourist narration of the Freedom Trail
A youtube video of Kentucky students visiting the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute
A youtube video of the Alburquerque Hot Air Ballon Festival
A youtube video of the Norman Rockwell Museum
A youtube video of the Waimea Canyon
A youtube video of the murals in San Francisco