Going west for AmericaFest

The Fourth of July is a time for celebrating the birth of America and what the country stands for. Of course, some people celebrate more enthusiastically than others.

This is true of the dozen or so teenagers, ranging from 16 to 20, who have put on AmericaFest for two years now. AmericaFest 2010, which took place on Saturday and Sunday with Memorial Park as a home base, consisted of an informal parade, a reading of the Declaration of Independence, a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, handing out apple pies to firefighters and a loosely based Revolutionary War battle reenactment portrayed through a water balloon fight.

"A lot of people think it's a trivial thing, but we take it seriously even though we have a lot of fun doing it," said Quemars Ahmed, one of the founders of AmericaFest. "We see it as a civic duty to show off our patriotism and have fun doing it at the same time."

AmericaFest started unintentionally, admitted Ahmed and the other founder, Brian Bruegge. One night, when the two were driving back to Bruegge's car, he decided to add some flair to the short trip by blasting patriotic music and waving an American flag out the window.

Somehow that morphed into AmericaFest.

The group meets up at Memorial Park with a number of possessions showing their patriotism. Between all of them are several American flags, a makeshift American flag cape, a copy of the Declaration of Independence and a bald eagle kite.

"It works well here because it's a small town with a main street going right through it," AmericaFest attendee Jacob Walters said. "It's really just a manifestation of our love for America. We aren't apathetic or apologetic about it."

Ahmed and Bruegge are both recent La Cañada High School graduates. Ahmed attends Seton Hall in New Jersey and Bruegge goes to Fordham University in New York, but they make the trip back home in the summer for AmericaFest.

"It's mostly a celebration of our freedom and our country," Bruegge said. "It's the greatest country in the world, in my opinion."

The parade consists of all the participants loading into a red, white or blue car. In that order, they drive down Verdugo Boulevard to Montrose and down Foothill Boulevard to Pasadena and back. Classic American hymns can be heard blaring from the cars stereos as those inside wave American flags out the window. The procession goes about five miles and takes about a half-hour.

"We get anything from pride to laughter, and some people are just annoyed because we're hogging the road. It's kind of annoying if you're not into America I guess," Ahmed said jokingly.

Each year AmericaFest is a little bit different because new people come out every year. Rex Noreen was a first-time participant this year.

"It's developed its own story," Noreen said. "It's part of America now. I wouldn't feel American if I didn't come out to at least one AmericaFest."

For one returner, AmericaFest is reason enough for a homecoming.

"AmericaFest is the reason I come back to La Cañada every year," La Cañada resident and UC Irvine student Eric Ah said. "It provides a way for me to be patriotic and reconnect with my friends."

Although AmericaFest is a grass-roots movement for the moment, they hope it will catch on and grow.

"Our goal is to make this a La Cañada thing, something this town could be proud of," Ahmed said. "If we become more legitimate, I believe there is definitely a demand for it."

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