Public Insight Network

Key Biscayne family bridges cultures & community at festive Fourth of July parties

If you have lived on Key Biscayne or have friends who do, you probably know about the island’s Fourth of July parade along Crandon Boulevard.

Likely, you may also know of the annual Independence Day parties Maite Hoyos and her husband David Cimo have been hosting for decades from their home on the island.

Fourth of July is celebrated on the Key with a morning parade and fireworks in the evening. Hoyos, 49, and Cimo, 50, and their three children—daughters Daniela, 20, and Alexandra, 17, and son Francesco, 12—have added to the celebration since the couple married nearly 25 years ago.

Friends and family fly in from Argentina, Mexico and New Jersey and drive from Atlanta, along with neighbors, to partake of the family’s hospitality: There are bounties of Cuban pork, rice and beans, pastelitos, ceviche and Spanish and Mexican foods. People pop in and out all day, head to the parade, come back for more food and conversation and a splash in the pool. After fireworks on the beach, guests return for dessert and dancing, along with singing contests that pit generation against generation.

Some years there have been dance contests. Last year, the family had a photo booth where guests could take a picture alongside the faces of Uncle Sam and President Obama.

“I’ve been coming since the 1980s,” said Carmen Mencio from her home in Mexico City. Hoyos and Mencio attended the University of Miami together, and Mencio raised a family with husband José Díaz out of the country. Her children are college-age and attend UM, so the family party is a reunion for them, too.

“Many of us left the country and most of us who left come back for the Fourth and we meet there. That makes it extra special. We’re a diverse group and the Fourth, Miami and the U.S. brought us all together,” Mencio said.

For Hoyos, July Fourth is special. She comes from a family of immigrants. Her grandparents emigrated from Spain to Cuba. Then they and her parents left Cuba for Argentina, where Hoyos was born. Hoyos and her mother became citizens of the United States on July 4, 1976 — the country’s Bicentennial. “My first passport was a Bicentennial one,” she remembers.

“Immigrants and immigration have marked my life,” she said. “I became an immigration lawyer and I have dedicated my life to help immigrants become legal in this country.”

Miami makes it even more memorable and meaningful.

“I think sometimes if you were born here and live here you take things for granted,” Hoyos says. “When you are not from here you start celebrating Thanksgiving and Fourth of July and things you didn’t celebrate in your country.”

That means traditional Fourth fare like hot dogs and hamburgers play second fiddle at these festivities to pork and pastelitos.

“I am especially grateful for the fact that in the United States and, specifically in Miami, we have so many people from all over the world that respect the traditions of this country but they don’t forget their own heritage and their customs. We are free to celebrate the Fourth of July, the birth of this nation, in our own way with our traditions and our food,” Hoyos said in response to a query from the Miami Herald’s Public Insight Network.

The guests, up to 60 or more of all ages, welcome the opportunity to merge cultures and learn from one another.

“I just think it brings everyone together on a special day,” says friend and neighbor Ileana Falla. “July Fourth on Key Biscayne has always been a big deal. Maite brings everyone together and opens it up to families, kind of an open house, kind of a tradition.”

Hoyos laughs when she remembers one time when the family diverted from the plan.

“This has turned into something where people are expecting it. One year we went to Aspen for the Fourth and everybody was, ‘Wait! You’re leaving for the Fourth? What are we going to do? There’ll be nobody at your house.’ We realized it was a big thing.”

Miami Herald Public Insight analyst Stefania Ferro contributed to this story. Follow @HowardCohen on Twitter.