I experienced my first Fourth of July in 1976 in Los Angeles, California. I was almost of 12 years old and visiting with my father and sister, and I had no real clue about the holiday or that it was the bicentennial. And while I knew that the Fourth of July celebrated American independence, I had yet to experience a celebration of the holiday in the U.S. At the time I was living in Mexico and the Fourth of July meant a big fair at the American School, with booths and businesses giving out freebies like pens and brochures, bands playing music, all kinds of games and food and drinks. It was a fun time, no doubt. But it wasn’t a real Fourth of July.

That bicentennial year in California we went to a park and I saw the bandstand (nothing like the gazebos in pueblos in Mexico) all decorated with the red white and blue. The park was clean and calm. It was nothing like Mexico and more like something in a movie. I expected the characters from “The Bad News Bears” to walk onto the field and start playing baseball. It wouldn’t be until five years later, when we moved to the U.S., that I understood the tradition of going to the park, grilling burgers, listening to rock and roll, and then kicking back at night to watch the fireworks.

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Now, I can’t help and add a bit of my own Fourth of July traditions to the mix. When we celebrate, we grill churrasco, because we like it better than burgers. Sometimes we go check out the fireworks, but we’re not always up for dealing with the crowds. Instead, my son and stepdaughters set off a barrage of pyrotechnics in the back yard.

Strangely, we don’t have any real conversations about independence or patriotism. And I wonder whether these are a part of other people’s Fourth of July traditions and celebrations. It makes me wonder whether that’s what we’ve become in the U.S., because in Mexico, September 16 (Mexican Independence Day) is pretty insane.You always feel the patriotism, that Miguel Hidalgo started the war for freedom from Spain, and that together, we became Mexico.

I think each country and every person has their own beliefs and celebrates accordingly. I love the U.S. and I participate in the celebrations of the Fourth of July in my own way, which when you think of it, is very similar to how the commercials on TV tell me to celebrate. We drink beer, grill and check out the fireworks. But I think that what gets lost in the hoopla is that our forefathers fought for freedom from England, and created a Bill of Rights that set forth ideals that make us all equal and free. They created a roadmap to a great society.

And in the end, despite ethnicities or race, the Fourth of July is for all of us. So even if you have to work that day, or instead you stay home and watch reruns of Magnum PI, it doesn’t matter. We’re still Americans. We’re still proud of this nation, despite its problems. No place is perfect. But we need to remember we are one people. Just like old Woody Guthrie once said, “This land is our land…. This land was made for you and me.”