As the Fourth of July approaches, it bears looking beyond the pomp and circumstance to examine the original precept behind this festival of independence. For many residents of color, it is the most paradoxical of holidays because, they argue with much justification, that its celebration is a hollow one, since many of the freedoms it salutes remain elusive to them.

This is by no means a new complaint. Throughout the 20th century many disgruntled African Americans responded to the call to take up arms for the cause of freedom by stating matter of factly that the blessing of freedom had yet to bestow its grace upon them. Generations before that, the abolitionist Frederick Douglass articulated these sentiments more eloquently than any would-be orator has since.

To be sure, present-day Los Angeles harbors numerous indicators that much remains to be desired in this, the land of the American Dream. Gleaming skyscrapers shelter scores of immigrants–newcomers to these shores just a short time ago–who’ve realized their wildest aspirations in the manifestation of vast fortune and material wealth, while on the streets the offspring of generations of indigenous citizens struggle daily just to secure shelter from nature’s wrath.

And yet, throughout the valley of tribulation, the occasional peck of success asserts its way through the fog of despair, as if to remind us that we, like the narrator of the venerated poem by Langston Hughes, must realize that life is not a crystal stair.

Bob Reid, a retiree of the United States Marines and a man whose exploits and opinions have graced the pages of OurWeekly in past issues, reflected on the transitions he’s witnessed that, in his view, improved the lot of Black, White, Asian, and Latino Americans during the latter half of the 20th century. New arrivals from third world countries, he says, have the advantage of leaving oppressive environs, and that encourages appreciation of the opportunities the U.S. offers–prospects that many native-born citizens take for granted.

“After 26 years in the Marine Corps, I have seen a lot of (good) changes in the United Stats and other countries. The younger kids don’t realize how good they have it. They must understand that the American Dream can be theirs, but they must work for it.”

Perhaps America, like most human constructs, is and always will be more an idea than a tangible reality, since anything conceived by man has in its nature flaws and imperfections that mirror those of the mortal being who created it.

Christianity has long been said to be the most revolutionary idea in the world, for the simple reason that it has never been practiced as it was initially meant. Throughout its two millennium-plus history, countless atrocities and crimes have been perpetuated in its name as subterfuge for humanity’s baser impulses. The same can be said for virtually any religion.

Currently we are embroiled in a conflict that sprang up partially because the more ardent followers of a particular faith determined, rightly or wrongly, that America poses a threat to their method of worshiping a higher being. Once again, as has happened so often in history, mankind has resorted to violence to settle a slight, real or perceived.

The precepts upon which America was built were initially bestowed on a chosen few, the White male elite who worshiped a Protestant God, and devised a hierarchy that suited their own interests. In the subsequent time span, the ranks of those “created equal” have periodically expanded to include groups previously denigrated by the established order. And so, over the years, the community of equals has embraced the Irish, the Jew, the woman, the slave, and the immigrant (a group that in truth includes all but a small minority of others).

America is a concept that is constantly evolving. Just recently, the powers-that-be in New York, a place that arguably casts as wide a swath of influence across this country and the globe as any other locale, determined that the benefits and privileges of marriage should be extended to those choosing to partner with the same sex. Almost immediately opposition to this decision was voiced, notably by the most prominent representative of the Catholic Church of that region, with continued dissension an almost certainty.

As the Independence holiday approaches, this freedom to choose extends to the manner in which we individually decide to celebrate.

In the end however, we have the right to choose.