San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

American Colony Preparing for Picnic

FOR many U.S. citizens living abroad,the Fourth of July is a day to remember theirhome country and culture, and indulge inthe things they miss. Forty-five years ago, agroup of such citizens decided they woulddo something for their nostalgic compatriotsand founded the American Colony Committeeto plan and put on a U.S. IndependenceDay picnic in Costa Rica.“It was started by just giving a four hourwindow once a year to the Americancolony here to let them get together, bringthe kids and have a hot dog and a beer anda good time, and a little taste of Americana,”said Susan Tessem, president of thecommittee as of this year.The committee is now gearing up tothrow their 45th U.S. Independence Daypicnic Sat., July 2. Over the years the committeehas grown, and the picnic has gottenbetter, Tessem said.“This has been going on for 45 years,so it has risen to an art form,” she said.“We’ve been through it all. We’ve learnedour lessons.”THE committee now consists of nearly40 people who meet months in advanceto begin planning and fundraising for theevent.“The people who have become membersof the American Colony Committee –from the first group who got together andstarted this all the way to right now – arepeople who are already high profile in thecommunity,” Tessem explained. “They arealready busy all year long with theextracurricular activities they take on, andthen they take on even more time to givethis little four-hour window.”Tessem was elected to her position earlierthis year, becoming the first woman tohead the committee. She is also only thesecond person not from the Fendell familyto be president. Jack Fendell, who foundedthe committee, was president until his sontook over. The first non-Fendell to assumeleadership was Spencer Manners, who hadthe two-year term previous to Tessem’s.“It’s just a lot of fun,” Tessem said ofher new role. “The one thing I really wantto do is make sure to maintain the traditional,old-fashioned Fourth of July that wehave. It is really a nice thing to be able tohave the tradition continue and be strongand have everybody come and have a goodtime. That’s my goal.”THE main focus of the committee inthe months before the picnic is coming upwith funding. The event, exclusively forU.S. citizens and their immediate family, isentirely free, from the hotdogs and beer tothe kids’ rides and music.While some U.S. businesses are donatingproducts, the committee pays all costs.This year’s event is budgeted at $15,000 –money that will come entirely from donationsfrom U.S. businesses and individualshere in Costa Rica. At the committee’s lastmeeting on May 31, the treasurer had yet tosee a dime, though a few donations werereported during the meeting.Tessem and other members of the committeeare quick and eager to point out thatthe picnic is not a U.S. government event.“This organization has absolutely noconnection to the government whatsoever,”Tessem said. “It would hurt our donations ifpeople thought it was funded by the government.It is 100% funded by the community.”In previous years, the picnic was heldat the U.S. Ambassador’s residence, butthis led people to believe it was being puton and paid for by the U.S. government,Tessem explained. This year, as in the pastfive years, the picnic will be held at thestate brewery Cervecería Costa Rica, inAlajuela, northwest of San José. The movewas motivated as well by the growth of theevent and its need for more space; 5,000people attended last year and the committeeexpects a similar number this year.JOSEPHINE Degener has been on theAmerican Colony Committee for 37 years,and has seen it grow and change – gettingbetter every year, she said, but also facingnew challenges.“It was a lot easier early on, in theyears when they first started,” she said.“The heads of companies like Scott Paperand Coca-Cola were U.S. citizens and weregenerous in giving to us every year. Nowmost of the heads of companies are CostaRican or Central American. It is now sortof a struggle to gather up the money.”To donate funds to the AmericanColony Committee, contact Vivian Espinozaat 289-6845.

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