Nothing says July Fourth in South Florida like a Nicaraguan family gathering over carne asada
and gallo pinto
, a Pakistani family munching on chicken biryani while watching fireworks, and Chinese Americans enjoying a traditional sweet soup dessert at a park.
“We have people from all over the world living in Miami,” said Carlos Borges, who emigrated from Brazil more than 20 years ago. “People come and bring their food, their colors, their culture.”
People from every corner of the world have made South Florida their home, and when it comes time for the all-American holiday, it has a deep significance to them. Many celebrate the traditional way but add a hint of their native culture, usually in their meals.
“This nation was created to open the doors for whoever wants to be part of it,” said 36-year-old Edda Jiron, who emigrated from Nicaragua when she was a child. “The word ‘independence’ means a lot to me. I feel that this country gives me power,” said Jiron, referring to her right to vote and ability to give back to the community.
With the approach of this July Fourth, The Miami Herald’s Neighbors section talked to U.S. immigrants about what significance the day has for them and how they celebrate.Winnie Tang
First-generation Chinese American Winnie Tang uses a metaphor to describe how American she feels: She is a tree planted in China that now is deeply rooted in the United States.
“We are living in the U.S., and this is our country,” said Tang, 50. “We need to be part of this country and not the outsider.”
That is why every July Fourth she gathers with other Chinese Americans, part of the South Florida chapter of the Organization of Chinese Americans, at Topeekeegee Yugnee Park in Hollywood to celebrate Independence Day over hot plates of barbecue chicken, hot dogs and hamburgers, followed by a cooling Chinese dessert of sweet green-bean soup or almond tofu.
“This is the day we show our appreciation that we are part of this country,” Tang said. “Let’s demonstrate our love and respect.”
Tang came to the United States from Macau in 1978 with her family. In 1987, she moved to South Florida, where she now works as an office manager at a homecare business and is involved with community organizations, including the Asian American Federation of Florida and the United Chinese Association of Florida.
Fluent in both English and Cantonese, Tang sees herself as a bridge between the Chinese community in America and American society. Much of her community service is helping other Chinese Americans make the transition to American life: finding schools, getting a job permit, assimilating with the community.
“We try to bring people into the thought that this is our country. We are not just a traveler here,” she said.
Every July Fourth, Tang hangs a U.S. flag outside her Kendall home.
She said that many immigrants who come to the U.S. at later stages in their lives hold on to a thought that they will one day return to their native country.
That is not the case with Tang, who immigrated when she was a teenager.
“We need to participate in what is near you and not what is far away from you,” she said. “Water for fire coming from afar will not help.”Edda Jiron
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.”Carlos Borges
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
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
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.”