As Prepared for Delivery
Ambassador Joey Hood’s Independence Day Remarks
Good evening, everyone, and thank you for being with us tonight to celebrate the 247th anniversary of the independence of the United States of America.
What a beautiful night to celebrate the birthday of our country with you – our colleagues, partners, and friends!
I would like to thank in particular:
His Excellency Nabil Ammar, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Migration and Tunisians Abroad;
Her Excellency Sihem Boughdiri, Minister of Finance;
Heads of diplomatic missions and International Organizations;
Members of Tunisian civil Society; and representatives of Tunisian and International Press and Media.
A Night in Tunisia… I’m sure you know that famous jazz piece composed by Dizzy Gillespie in 1942 during World War II. Back then the American soldiers – Black and White, Jews and Christians – fought the German army in Tunisia and elsewhere in North Africa. We celebrated the 80th anniversary of their victory over the Nazis here this year. Several thousand of them paid the ultimate price, their remains now resting in the American cemetery of Carthage. And yet, in the United States at that time, Black soldiers were still subject to segregation and did not receive the same honors as White soldiers at the end of the war. We’ve made much progress in the decades that followed in ensuring greater rights and freedoms for all Americans, but much remains to be done and as a nation, we now strive more than before to include and engage our citizens of all religious confessions, sexual orientation, gender, national origin or race in forming what we refer to in our Constitution as “a more perfect Union.” It’s with that experience in mind that we seek to help other nations, such as Tunisia, with their own democratic development.
The theme of our event tonight is jazz. Like some of the most important things in life – love or friendship, for example – jazz doesn’t have a good definition. But without a doubt it’s an American music – a melting pot of African rhythms and European harmony, spirituals, work songs and church hymns, a diverse confluence of cultural influences, styles, and genres – African, European and, later, Latin American, and Arabic. It’s multiethnic and multicultural, just like America itself. Jazz is also a very democratic genre: each player has an opportunity to become a soloist for a few bars, to express him or herself. And there is something else important I’d like to mention: jazz played a major role in our history by breaking down racial segregation and stereotypes in the United States. Radio stations started to play jazz to their audiences – black and white, and musicians started to play together regardless of their race long before any anti-discrimination legislative acts.
This music has an amazing ability to adapt and adjust and connect to different cultures, styles, and genres. This explains jazz’ appeal around the globe and, of course, in Tunisia. It is a big part of the country’s cultural scene and I’m so glad that Imen Khayyati’s Band )إيمان الخيّاطي( is with us today showcasing the Tunisian jazz.
Another corner of the world where jazz is celebrated is Ukraine. While we gather today for the U.S. Independence Day, we must keep in our hearts the Ukrainian people, who continue to courageously fight for their own independence, which is threatened by Russia’s brutal invasion. I am inspired by a story of a Ukrainian couple, Julia and Yaroslav, who decided even amid the bombardment of Odessa, to keep their jazz club’s doors open, offering brief glimpses of joy and peace during the darkest of days.
As jazz musician and composer Thelonious Monk famously said, “Jazz is freedom,” and I can think of no better place for it to be played than Ukraine. We are honored to have with us this evening Ukrainian Ambassador to Tunisia Khomanets and other members of the Ukrainian Mission.
Like jazz music, America is inconceivable without diversity. It’s defined by it. I’m convinced that diversity also defines the Tunisian nation. It’s reflected in your language, and in the immense variety of your names, clothing, and traditions. Since ancient times, Tunisia has been a melting pot for those who came here peacefully or otherwise, a place of religious coexistence and openness.
As we celebrate our Independence Day, I’d like to note that while we were the first great power to recognize Tunisia’s independence in 1956, our relations actually go back to 1799, when we concluded our first treaty of friendship and trade. Our relations are strong today and I am sure they will continue to be strong for years to come.
Let me thank our sponsors, our Marines, and all the colleagues from Missions Tunisia and Libya who made this evening’s celebration happen. And now let’s jazz things up and enjoy the party. It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing.