If you had any doubt about America and its future spending a couple of hours basking in the late morning sun along flag-lined North Main Street on Wednesday served as the perfect antidote.
Cynics among us may view Fourth of July parades as small town folks grasping onto old values and the past but those who see it that way don’t look beneath the red, white, and blue garments. Those flags — and there were thousands of them — reflect an America that is even more vibrant and inclusive than it was 242 years ago.
If you were along the parade route Wednesday you would have seen the American ideal is alive and well despite seemingly the non-stop wailing.
Did you see the guy zipping around in the miniature Army Jeep? He looked rather upbeat. Not only is he 100 years old, but Olie Tokheim will probably tell you America’s trials and tribulations today are trivial when put in perspective. That happens when you can measure life by a 100-year yardstick as opposed to a 15-second Tweet. Olie made it through the Great Depression and fighting in World War II where boogeymen that you called Adolph Hitler were the real deal.
Olie, by the way, was picked by the Sunrise Kiwanis that organized the parade as this year’s grand marshal given he and the City of Manteca both marked a century of success this year.
Behind Olie rolling down Main Street was the future.
Among them was a girl less than a year-old with the red, white and blue dress of the day complete with matching hair band clutching a miniature flag while in the safety of her father’s arm. That’s what Olie fought for. That’s what countless comrades in arms of Olie’s died for.
There were also older children. If you think kids of 10 are all video game junkies then you missed the young boys driving tractors down Main Street as if was the greatest thing in the world. And if you think about it, it is.
It was American ingenuity, sweat, and dreaming that transformed the world where just 200 years ago 80 percent of the people lived on farms raising food. Today less than 2 percent of the American population feeds 326 million plus a good chunk of the world.
It takes a lot of brawn, brains, and perseverance to be a farmer. The tractors were a reminder that Manteca is part of the richest agricultural region the world has ever known — the San Joaquin Valley — and is in San Joaquin County that ranks as one of the top seven farm producing counties in the country.
Among those tractor drivers were Punjabi Americans. They are not Johnny Come Latelys. Many have been farming the valley for more than 120 years. Today they are part of the backbone of our community — small businessmen, truck drivers, farmers, engineers, doctors, and even elected leaders.
They shared their cultural traditions just like Ballet Folklorico dancers that followed them.
Melting pot is an overused term but it rings as true as the Liberty Bell did in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776.
As for the future, did you notice a single kid that looked bored whether they were sitting on curbs waiting to chase down tossed candy, riding bicycles with Americana bunting, or proudly riding a team float with banners proclaiming they are the District 67 Little League champions? Those baton twirlers, soap bubble blowers, pre-teen equestrian entries, and others are kids today but they are going to be the ones that will build this nation’s future, defend its freedoms, and keep nurturing the seeds of the dream planted 242 years ago.
They say we forget the price of freedom. A number of entries carried photos of the fallen in the Global War on Terror as well as those who have served in other wars protecting American freedoms and interests.
And given this is the Era of Outrage, weren’t things put into perspective seeing politicians — Mayor Steve DeBrum and his challenger Ben Cantu in the same parade? They have diverging opinions about how best to steer Manteca into the future but they operate from the same foundation. They are Manteca residents and Americans first. They both happen to be Kiwanis members as well. Cantu is part of the Manteca Kiwanis that staged the Fourth of July breakfast and DeBrum belongs to the Sunrise Kiwanis that staged the Independence Day parade.
Having differing views — and cultural roots — doesn’t mean civility has to be jettisoned nor does it prohibit people from working toward common ground. Maybe that works in places like Manteca because you know — or know of — those who think, look and believe differently given you interact every day in neighborhoods, in schools, at social events, on work projects, at jobs, and even in the public square.
Daily contact with others that aren’t a carbon copy of your self is a tremendous counterbalance to fear of the unknown. Perhaps that explains why those watching the parade — as well as those in it — seemed to be looking in a mirror. Others may see ethnicity, gender, and other differences but what was reflected back on Wednesday with every glance was the sight of fellow Manteca residents and fellow Americans.
The truths that are self-evident survive the march of time. If you doubt that, all you had to do was look at the faces of the Manteca reserve firefighters pulling the hose carts from hydrant to hydrant shooting a stream of water skyward luring the young and young at heart to frolic for a minute on Main Street where cars usually fly by at 45 mph.
Half of those faces barely looked like they were out of puberty. Then you realize the fulltime firefighters manning the fire engines at the rear once looked that young.
The face of the American Dream — just like that of Manteca — is really the same. It’s about people. The only real thing that separates us is where we are on the yardstick. That girl under 1 year of age in the loving hold of her father is a babe in the woods, those Little Leaguers and Girl Scouts are just starting to find their way, those adult drivers of muscle cars and tractors have opened up the throttle and are rolling down the road of life, and those such as Olie having the time of his life zipping around in a miniature Army Jeep understand that things may change but the bottom line is we are all Americans.
And if you don’t think that means something ask those who leave familiar surroundings and risk it all to come here seeking a better life not for themselves as much as for their children.
They long for what is represented by what passed you on North Main Street Wednesday.
It wasn’t just Manteca on parade. It was America on parade.
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email email@example.com