Hot dogs, cotton candy, beer, rock-n-roll and patriotic colors flooded the open air at the Cervecería Nacional outside of San José Thursday morning.
An estimated 4,000 U.S. citizens and Costa Ricans gathered on the picnic grounds to celebrate July 4, and they did so with all the trappings homesick Americans might long for while living abroad.
The holiday event has become a habit for many from the States, and the U.S. Embassy opened the event for the second year to Costa Ricans accompanying friends from the U.S.
“We decided to do something very typical of America,” Eric Nelson, the embassy’s chargé d’affaires, said. “Give them a slice of America.”
In addition to providing a taste of home, Nelson noted the event is an opportunity for the embassy and other organizations to educate on the services they provide for U.S. citizens and Costa Ricans. U.S. businesses, veterans’ groups, political parties, nonprofit organizations, theater troupes, and the Peace Corps were present, offering information, services and goodies to attendees.
“It’s a chance to see how open and relaxed we are, how easy it is for everyone to feel American,” Nelson said.
Nelson addressed the crowd with a bilingual speech during the formal part of the event, stressing the important relationship between the two countries.
Lynda Solar, the American Colony Committee’s president, was one of the event’s main organizers.
“We want to share the feeling of what it’s like, how we celebrate our independence, and sharing that in our host city,” Solar said.
Event organizers and groups started the day early, commuting to the Cervecería in suburban San José. As they were setting up tables and tent stands, a rock band performed Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away,” and a convoy of classic American cars arrived.
Vanessa Calvo, a volunteer with the Women’s Club of Costa Rica, said the event helped to build the ranks of her group, which provides scholarships to local children.
“We help pensionados (retirees) to find activities for interaction. It helps to combat isolation,” Calvo said.
Calvo, who is from San José but also lived in Key West and Los Angeles in the U.S., said the event was great for getting Costa Ricans and U.S. citizens to mingle.
“When you’re in a country, you got to mix with the locals,” Calvo said.
Later in the morning, families began to arrive, filling the Cervecería with square dancing, volleyball, footraces and laughter.
Rich Sulzer, a member of the American Foreign Legion, said his group was hoping to add to their dwindling ranks at the event.
“We try to enlist more people into our post of the American Legion, but it gets harder and harder every year,” Sulzer said.
Sulzer said his group also helps educate Costa Rican children through fundraising. He hoped recruitment could help combat the losses caused by deaths of older veterans, so the Legion could continue its charitable work.
The picnic atmosphere briefly gave way to a formal series of speeches from Nelson, the singing of the “Star Spangled Banner” and a flag raising ceremony by uniformed U.S. Marines. Folk singer Mary McBride then took the stage, performing Americana standards such “Route 66” and the spiritual “Swing Low Sweet Chariot.”
David Sagel manned a Democrats Abroad booth during the festivities, helping to register voters living in Costa Rica and educate them about absentee voting. Sagel said the event helped get out the word about the large number of ongoing activities U.S. citizens can participate in while living in Costa Rica such as theater and art groups.
“It’s very important not only for what we are doing, not just politics, but cultural as well,” Sagel said.
Sagel had printed copies of the top news stories in his booth, focused on the current politics back home.
“For Gringos married to Ticos, many are interested about immigration reform,” Sagel said.
The heat of the morning gave way to a cloudy afternoon, as the event approached its planned end — scheduled so to beat the frequent midday downpours of Costa Rica’s rainy season.
Farid Mozafari, a Peace Corps volunteer, enjoyed briefly dipping his foot back into U.S. culture before returning to his assignment in Brasilia, a town in the north of Costa Rica.
“As a Peace Corps volunteer it’s great to come and feel like an American citizen,” Mozafari said.
The Peace Corps is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Mozafari continued this tradition by working with local businesses on economic development and teaching English to schoolchildren. Mozafari praised John F. Kennedy, the U.S. president who created the organization.
“He was only president for a few years, but he left such a big legacy,” Mozafari said.