Families from all over the East Bay joined Berkeley residents for a daylong Fourth of July celebration at the Marina Wednesday.
The alcohol-free event, which organizers predicted would attract from 5, 000 to 6,000 people during the day and as many as 60,000 for the evening’s fireworks, offered a variety of activities, many of which were designed for children.
Some of the festivities took place in the sailing club parking lot, where a few dozen organizations and food vendors set up their booths. Across the street, organizers had erected a stage on a lawn, where Professor Gizmo, a colorful one-man band, kicked off the event playing accordion, cymbals and harmonica simultaneously thanks to a peculiar multi-task instrument. A group of belly dancers followed, and the program would later include Oakland blues artist Birdlegg and Latin music.
The rest of the activities took place near the Shorebird Nature Center, where dozens of people laid out blankets, set up chairs and fired up barbecue grills on the picnic area. A Berkeley Police Department booth took fingerprints that children could take home with them, which would help police if the child was ever reported missing. A group of musicians formed a “community drumming circle” and there was space for Frisbee, football, and volleyball. Kids who felt more creative could become carpenters for a few hours, building and painting wooden structures at Adventure Playground.
Little in this fifth daytime Fourth of July event at the Marina evoked the historic significance of the national holiday. A clown dressed in the colors of the American flag, and the stage decorations were the only indicators this was a patriotic celebration. At the beginning of the afternoon, event promoter Lisa Bullwinkel, said a statement would be read from Sen. Barbara Boxer talking about what the Fourth of July means for the community, but more than anything the celebration was a family friendly event, an opportunity for people to relax and have fun.
And to many people indeed, that is what the Fourth of July is all about.
When asked what this holiday means to him, Jimmy Fuentes, a Mexican American who lived his whole life in Berkeley and attends the Marina celebration with his wife and two children every year, answered: “En verdad, fiesta...It’s just to take the family out and enjoy the sun.”
To Scott Kellstedt, father of two, the Fourth of July means the same. “It means summer,” he said, before adding that it had not always been that way for him. A native of New England, Kellstedt sees a difference between the way the national holiday is celebrated in his home state and in California.
“The Fourth of July in New England is much more patriotic, much more giving that feeling of how important that event is in our history. Here in California it just seems like a summer holiday.”
Kellstedt said when he was a kid, he would put a copy of the Declaration of Independence on his bike, ride to the Fourth of July parade, and salute when soldiers went by.
Bullwinkel said part of the reason for the local lack of patriotism could be that, in Berkeley, people enjoy much more freedom than residents of other areas, and therefore give less weight to the original meaning of Independence Day. “ (The Fourth of July) is about life liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” she said. “In Berkeley, we make sure that we have all these rights in a big way, so some people think that celebrating the Fourth of July in Berkeley is a little patriotic and hokey.”
However, even in the liberal Bay Area, there are still people who demonstrate their attachment to the value of the nation’s history. Cookie and Cote Reese, a couple of musicians from El Cerrito, stuck out of the crowd. Dressed in colorful Fourth of July costumes, they came to the Marina attracted by the program, but that was not their only motivation to celebrate.
“It’s independence day, it’s the moment when this country was formed and became an entity,” said Cookie Reese. “The country is the way it is because of that break with the colonial power. We’re very aware of that.”