Edda Jiron said that like many others from Central America, where some countries have been plagued by political turmoil for years, she feels empowered in the U.S. “Coming to this nation means a lot to us,” said Jiron, who was born in Managua, Nicaragua, and immigrated when she was 12. “It’s a big deal, and many of us feel blessed that this is our home.”
“And why not celebrate, it’s Independence Day?” she said.
Every July Fourth, she gathers with family and friends over plates of carne asada and gallo pinto, then later watches the Bayside fireworks display.
But for Jiron, 36, it is not enough to show her love and appreciation for the U.S. only once a year. That is why she dedicates herself year-round to community-service work. Jiron teaches a citizenship-exam class at The English Center near Coral Gables, part of Miami-Dade County Public Schools. She puts an emphasis on American history and civics. She also works with PICO United Florida, or People Improving Communities through Organizing, an association that advocates for low-income families.
“It’s not that we are just living in this society — we are part of this society,” said Jiron of West Miami. “This is a nation that has very much welcomed our culture.”
July Fourth at the Borges’ Fort Lauderdale home may seem standard — a large gathering of family and friends, food and fireworks-watching. But wait until you see their menu.
Barbecue chicken, hot dogs, hamburgers … caruru, vatapá and bobo?
A native of Brazil and resident of the United States for 23 years, Carlos Borges’ July Fourth meal includes staples from both countries.
“We set up two different tables: one for American food and one for Brazilian food,” said Borges, 56. “It’s a way for you to celebrate both cultures and the fact that we have two countries.”
Caruru is a hummus-like dish made from okra, dendê oil, shrimp, onion and toasted nuts. It is often served with acarajé, made from peas deep-fried in dendê oil. Vatapá is made from shrimp, bread, dendê oil and coconut milk.
And the “queen of the table” is bobo, Borges said. Bobo is a dish made with shrimp and yucca cream. All are dishes traditional of the northeast state of Bahia, where Borges is from.
Borges left Brazil for Tampa and later moved to South Florida, where he began a marketing, consulting, advertising and events production company called Plus Media & Marketing.
July Fourth took on a new meaning for Borges when his daughter Amanda was born, two years after he came to America.
Amanda was about 6 months old when the family celebrated their first July Fourth together — they watched the fireworks at Bayfront Park.
“She (Amanda) is my patriotic link,” Borges said.
Mohammad Shakir sat in his downtown Miami office and remembered the day he became a U.S. citizen.
It was about 40 years ago, and he was a green-card holder from Pakistan and a U.S. Army private first class stationed at Fort Knox, Ky. He and his buddies crammed in a car and drove to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he was sworn in. As he came out with the rest of the people who had just acquired citizenship, a large group of locals greeted them with American flags and sweets.
“I think that really generated a sense of pride in American citizenship,” said Shakir, 62.
The unique family feel in the military gave Shakir a “great sense of patriotism,” he said.
“I am a brown-skinned guy. This is a white-skinned guy over there. This is a darker-skinned guy there, and that’s a blond, curly-haired guy there. But when we face a common enemy, they are my angels that will protect me. And I will protect them,” said Shakir, who was in the Army for about two years before being discharged for medical reasons.
He celebrates every July Fourth by raising an American flag over his Miami Shores home, and by reflecting on the history and meaning behind Independence Day.
Like with many other immigrants, at the Shakir home, the July Fourth meal is a mix of American dishes and staples from their native country: barbecue chicken is followed or preceded by chicken biryani.
Shakir came to the United States 42 years ago from Karachi, where he grew up. He was born in Lahore. Now he is the director of the Asian-American Advisory Board, part of the Miami-Dade County Office of Community Advocacy.
Shakir said that part of July Fourth’s importance is that it paved the way for the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
“We are grateful that that day is part of our history.”