Americans celebrate Independence Day with fireworks, parades and citizenship |

Americans celebrate Independence Day with fireworks, parades and citizenship

BOSTON (AP) – As most of the nation celebrated America’s 225th birthday on Wednesday with parades, fireworks and barbecues, thousands of immigrants marked Independence Day by embracing their new home.

On board the USS Constitution in Boston Harbor, 19 immigrants were sworn in as American citizens.

Leila Nessralla, who moved from Lebanon in 1996, said she was drawn to citizenship by her desire to vote, as well as a desire to be just like her children.

”I have two daughters that are American; now nothing separates us,” she said.

Military veterans from the city’s Chinatown neighborhood celebrated the day by raising an American flag. Immigrants Kin Ye, 72, and Liu Jing Le, 65, sang a Chinese translation of ”The Star-Spangled Banner.”

”We want to get people to recognize we’re patriotic to the country we adopted,” said Raymond Chin, president of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association and member of the American Legion Post 328.

In Miami Beach, 22 children became citizens in a ceremony, followed by a concert by salsa star Willy Chirino and a fireworks display.

At a naturalization ceremony at Thomas Jefferson’s Charlottesville, Va., estate, speaker Vartan Gregorian told the 71 new citizens that he had been full of the same joy, fear and trepidation when he became a U.S. citizen 22 years ago.

Gregorian, who left Iran at age 15, is president of the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

”We all share the common fate of this country,” Gregorian told the crowd of about 1,500 at the Independence Day celebration in Monticello.

”We have all chosen the United States for its rights, institutions and opportunities… We come not only to enjoy its benefits, but we come to improve it… We know America is not perfect, but it is perfectable,” he said.

Elsewhere, revelers grilled hamburgers and hot dogs, camped out for the best seats for fireworks displays, and enjoyed a much-deserved day off from work.

Atlanta’s parade grand marshal was Navy Lt. Shane Osborn, the pilot of a spy plane that collided with a Chinese fighter jet and crash landed in April.

”It’s good to be back in the United States,” said Osborn, who with his 23 crew members was held in China for 11 days.

More than 200,000 people turned out to watch the 216th annual Bristol, R.I., parade, the nation’s oldest.

In Carmel, Ind., Richard Jewell, the man wrongly suspected in the bombing during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, was the grand marshal of the city’s holiday parade. ”I thought it was great,” he said.

At a frankfurter eating contest in New York, a 131-pound Japanese man inhaled a record 50 hot dogs in just 12 minutes, leaving competitors with their jaws agape: Takeru Kobayashi, at a scrawny 5-foot-7, had doubled the old record of 25.

About 1,000 residents of Whiteville, N.C., unfurled a 1-mile roll of paper down a street and, kneeling shoulder-to-shoulder, filled it with phrases or signatures from the Declaration of Independence in less than three minutes. It was then cut into 127-foot sections and assembled in a parking lot as a giant ”replica” of the 1776 document.

Fans of the Boston Pops lined up Wednesday morning to score front row seats on the Esplanade for the scheduled evening performance, which was to feature Cyndi Lauper, Debbie Reynolds and a reading by Peter Jennings.

”I think they blow off more fireworks in a week in Boston than we do in the whole state of Idaho in a year,” said Claudia Dambra, a Idaho resident.

A fever Tuesday couldn’t keep Texas Gov. Rick Perry from practicing for his conducting debut with the Austin Symphony Orchestra: he was getting ready to lead musicians in ”Stars and Stripes Forever” as a prelude to fireworks.

In Philadelphia, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan was awarded the 2001 Philadelphia Liberty Medal, given to those who uphold the ideals of founding principles of the country.

”Liberty is not just a cause for celebration today, but also a worthy crusade for our time,” he said.

President Bush and his wife, Laura, visited a North Philadelphia block party for children and families and helped judge a slam dunk contest.

In Indianapolis, Gustave ”Gus” Streeter, a 104-year-old World War I veteran, was also honored. Lt. Gov. Joe Kernan awarded him the Sagamore of the Wabash, the highest honor the state bestows on an individual.

When asked how many more Fourth of Julys he would see in his lifetime, Streeter was optimistic.

”Oh, What the hell? Many,” he said. ”I love people, and I like people to love me too.”

New York Gov. George E. Pataki marked the day by venturing into the spray at the base of Niagara Falls, a struggling tourist magnet he hopes to revive by building a casino.

”How better to celebrate America’s birthday?” Pataki shouted above the roar of the water. ”This is one of the unique places in the world. It’s nature at its most beautiful.”

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