Immigrants ‘ so thankful’ to celebrate Fourth of July
Leon Berd, 69, and Bella Vist, 65, waited what felt like forever for their chance to immigrate to the United States from Ukraine. That chance finally came in 1989, when Ukraine opened its borders for citizens to emigrate.
Vist, proudly wearing a flag- patterned shirt with matching earrings, necklaces and bracelets, attended the Chicago History Museum’s 57th annual Fourth of July Celebration on Monday. Berd stood next to her in a red, white and blue- striped polo and a matching bandana on his head.
“The United States is the best country in the world,” Vist said, recalling how they arrived as refugees. “It provided everything we could wish to desire and gave us so much opportunity. We are so thankful.”
Berd and Vist have attended the museum’s Fourth of July celebration every year since 1994. It’s tradition for them to celebrate their American citizenship by taking a photo every year with “the world’s tallest Uncle Sam,” a man on stilts.
Uncle Sam kicked off the festivities by leading small children in a parade around Uihlein Plaza behind the Chicago History Museum. Chil- dren marched waving small American flags with their faces painted red, white and blue while parents cheered them on.
Museum members led the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance and a reading of the Declaration of Independence.
Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin talked to the crowd about the United States’ first Fourth of July, when the Declaration of Independence was signed and the country reacted with celebrations and by planning how to deliver on the promise of freedom.
“Today we face new struggles to prove that we are all created equal and have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” Suffredin said, mentioning challenges such as the threat of terrorism, immigration reform and diminished respect for the law.
“But today, as with every other July 4th, the children will play and celebrate with games and fireworks [ while] the adults will plan how to make our world a better place to ensure ... the freedom of all.”
Veteran Jack Joseph, 89, also attended Monday’s celebration. He served near the end of World War II after being drafted during his senior year of high school. He said he never planned to join the military, but the experience gave him a new appreciation for the country.
“The Fourth of July is a symbolic day where memories like this get recapitulated and reinforced so one can remember all the good things about the United States,” Joseph said.
The Rev. Heidi Haverkamp, of the nearby St. Chrysostom’s Episcopal Church, said she sometimes disagrees with U. S. policies, but she attended the festival to celebrate the country’s good qualities.
“There are many things about patriotism that are often hard for me, but there’s this pure joy on the Fourth of July about all the good things in our country,” Haverkamp said.
Abby and Luke Wegner just moved to Chicago from Minnesota and said they were excited to spend their first Fourth of July in Chicago. Their children — John, 1, and Olivia, 4 — were dressed in red, white and blue; they had flags painted on their faces before the parade.
“It’s my favorite holiday. I love spending time with the family and celebrating the country and the freedom that we have,” Luke Wegner said.