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A Fourth Filled With the Freedom to Celebrate

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

With wonton in Monterey Park, marching Boy Scouts in South Pasadena and a symphony orchestra in Beverly Hills, Southern Californians celebrated a Fourth of July of glorious weather and good cheer Saturday, the 222nd birthday of the most polyglot nation on Earth.

The festivities included several dozen parades and pyrotechnic shows both big and small, with fireworks filling the evening sky at the Rose Bowl and at football fields and parks from Northridge to El Monte.

“This country was founded through a lot of hard work and hard effort, and today is a day to enjoy it,” said George Chiang, 57, one of several thousand revelers who gathered at Barnes Park in Monterey Park.

The San Gabriel Valley city, home to one of the largest Asian populations in Los Angeles County, marked its Fourth with a ceremony that has become a community tradition: presenting certificates to the city’s newest naturalized citizens. This year, it was Hsueh Ching-Chang and Maria Hernandez.

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South Pasadena celebrated the holiday with a parade that could have been taken from a Norman Rockwell painting. Khaki-clad Boy Scouts marched down Mission Street, followed by an old pickup truck carrying the grizzled members of the local Masonic lodge. Next came city Treasurer Victor Robinette waving from a car decked out in red, white and blue.

Nearly everyone in the crowd, it seemed, knew someone in the parade.

“This is what the city is all about,” said William Minnig Jr., 32. “It’s close-knit.”

Hal Edgar, South Pasadena’s 84-year-old “Senior of the Year,” was greeted with several cheers of “Hi, Hal!” as he cruised along the mile-long route in a shiny red convertible.

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“It’s like a dream,” said Edgar, who had spent the morning serving pancakes at the city’s Fourth of July breakfast. “My neighbors even come to see me.”

Although South Pasadena’s parade and daylong picnic had the feel of what one resident called “Hometown U.S.A.,” there was an equally festive celebration on skid row in Los Angeles, where volunteers at the Union Rescue Mission braced for bigger than normal crowds at their annual Fourth of July barbecue.

There were already long lines at the event by noon, and 3,000 people were expected to partake of the lunch by the end of the day.

It took six cooks almost 24 hours to whip up the 485 pies and 2,880 pounds of chicken the mission expected to serve, said Rosana Torres, who oversaw the cooking. The lunch, which was topped off with sides of corn on the cob and potato salad, got rave reviews.

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“Oh yeah, this is good today,” said April Easley, who’s staying at the mission to tide her over a tough time. She leaned over and whispered discreetly, “a lot better than it usually is.”

Janet Romer and her two sons don’t stay at the mission, but times have been lean for a year or so, and the family drops by on holidays for special dinners they otherwise couldn’t afford.

“It would cost at least $15 or $20 for me to get some barbecue like this together,” Romer said. “If we eat here and watch free fireworks later, it doesn’t cost a thing and it’s almost like a Fourth of July you see on TV.”

Across town at Roxbury Park in Beverly Hills, Daniel Lynberg and his family sat on the lawn and munched on pistachios, French bread and three kinds of cheese. Tucked illicitly in the cooler were a few bottles of “firewater, to give the day that extra kick,” Lynberg said.

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“Technically I don’t think we’re supposed to have alcohol out here at all,” Lynberg said. “But we brought some cheap Chardonnay, and some fancy beer in bottles that make it look just like root beer. I think we’ll get away with it.”

After lunch, Lynberg and company planned to take a shuttle to a free city-sponsored symphony at the Civic Center.

“It’s easy to feel patriotic with wine and live music,” Lynberg said with a smile.

In Westwood, two opposing groups engaged in other revered American tradition: civic protest.

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Hundreds of demonstrators on both sides of the immigration issue traded insults, waved placards and chanted slogans outside the Federal Building, the scene of previous clashes over illegal immigration. Police reported no major disturbances, however.

The mood was much more upbeat at Cal State Northridge, where Air Force veteran Richard McGrath, festively clad in stars and stripes, waxed patriotic about the Fourth of July as he waited for the fireworks show to begin on the football field.

“I spent 23 years in the Air Force and I was active in the reserves,” said McGrath, a Reseda resident, smoothing the brim on his tall red, white and blue striped hat. “Having served my country, that’s why I get dressed up.”

McGrath’s wife, Robin, said the significance of Independence Day is made all the more real to her as soon as she hears the first strains of “America the Beautiful” or “The Star-Spangled Banner” before the fireworks begin.

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“The music brings tears to my eyes,” she said. “This is one day a year when you stop to think about where you live, what you have and what others don’t have.”

In Orange County, more than 250,000 people attended Huntington Beach’s 94th annual Fourth of July parade. The parade down Main Street included equestrians, floats and marching bands.

Millie Douglas, a Huntington Beach retiree, said she and her family rarely miss the event. “It is nice to see all the families and the American flags,” she said. “It’s a tradition for us.”

At the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace in Yorba Linda, history buffs spent the holiday reenacting moments of the Revolutionary War, including the battles of Lexington and Concord. They also took part in a Betsy Ross flag-raising ceremony.

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Times staff writers Shelby Grad, Karima Haynes and Dan Weikel contributed to this report.


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