When he thinks about South Pasadena’s newest theme for the Festival of Balloons, a 4th of July celebration in town that has been on hold the last couple of years due to the pandemic, Michael Cacciotti is reminded of “each individual back in the 1700s, and what independence meant from their perspective,” said the city’s mayor, recognizing their fight for freedom didn’t come easy.
Fittingly, the theme for the city’s big day in little less than four months is “Struggle for Freedom, America’s Journey to Independence.”
Cacciotti is on board and pushed for the concept after visiting the Museum of the American Revolution in the heart of historic Philadelphia last summer. The site features art, manuscripts and printed works as Americans in the 13 Colonies formed independent states that defeated the British in the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783), gaining independence from the British Crown.
By now, a long part of history dating back 245 years ago, Independence Day is an annual celebration of nationhood, commemorating the passage of the Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776.
“Our 4th of July theme is about all those involved in creating the roots for America, including African Americans, Latinos, Whites, Asians, French Americans, Spanish Americans, Native Americans, Armenian Americans, Italian-Americans and many other nationalities that were here,” explained Cacciotti. “It’s a continuing journey for independence for all of us, and it’s time to celebrate it.”
Cacciotti envisions Independence Day events around town to drive home the message of “the many diverse stories about the Revolutionary War that helped us come together as country,” he said, noting that they could take place at the South Pasadena Library Community Room or outdoors, perhaps in Garfield Park, utilizing a stage, much like the annual Shakespeare in the Park.
“I like the idea of celebrating Americana – baseball, hot dogs, pancake breakfasts, parades, fireworks, and apple pie – like we’ve done in the past, but this year I think it’s important to add some activities to enhance it,” said Cacciotti. “July 4th is on a Monday, so the weekend ahead of it we can have movies in city parks or in a theater, plays at Fremont Center Theatre, readings, live Independence Day themed music with open tours of exhibits at the library community room or other places in town.”
The city hasn’t held a parade for a couple of years, “so let’s celebrate in many ways for all our people, our many different nationalities and cultures,” said Cacciotti, saying his summertime visit back east changed his way of thinking about the South Pasadena Festival of Balloons once it returned.
“Visiting the museum in Philadelphia really moved me, and I could see us showing films of historic events that a lot of people really haven’t seen. This was a world war, involving may countries and peoples, and we want to focus on it with our own 4th of July celebration and the many groups coming together against the British Empire and represent the story of slaves, of the colonists, the Spanish, the French, and the many indigenous people. There are some tremendous stories to tell, showing our diversity, being inclusive of what happened back then. I want to showcase the contributions from so many. This is about people working together as partners, as friends for a common cause about our freedom, our struggle about our independence. I think it’s an evolving journey as we become independent, as we fight for the rights of all of us seeking equality, fairness and justice.”
The mayor also hopes to work with City Librarian Cathy Billings, urging her to recommend a series of books, for both adults and children, about the Revolutionary War that can be checked out. Cacciotti would also like to see an exhibit about the war displayed inside the library or its community room.
“As we talk so much today about inclusion, diversity and equity in our country, we want to show a more collective experience about the American Revolution, in what actually happened from many different perspectives,” continued Cacciotti, who looks forward to working with Jim and Lissa Reynolds, owners and artistic directors of the Fremont Centre Theatre in South Pasadena. The couple could be asked to produce live performances with full casts, short first-person narratives, all wearing period clothing leading up to 4th of July in the city.
“They have the talent, the actors to call on and could really help make it special,” said Cacciotti of the Reynolds, who have indicated they are interested in making it happen, yet recognize it will be a tight timeline to research the history, write the script and cast the performers over the next three-plus months.
“They are looking at this seriously,” said Cacciotti, noting because of the couple’s busy schedule, “they have never been to one of our Festival of Balloons events.”
James Reynolds, a former Marine and among the cast on the long-running “Days of Our Lives” show, has traveled with his wife to the Mediterranean, Kuwait, Cuba and Afghanistan to meet and support U.S. troops overseas over the years.
Further, as the revolution and freedom is celebrated, Cacciotti wants to also focus – through the parade and local performances, readings, poems and or exhibits – on the state of California relating to 1776, regarding Indigenous peoples, Spanish explorers in and around California, specifically Los Angeles County “leading up to the Spanish being defeated, the Mexicans taking over Baja California and then the United States expanding where in 1847, the Californio leaders were fighting off the U.S. military coming from north, the east and the south, determining that it was finally time to capitulate, regroup back to Mexico City, protect Mexico,” he said. “And so that’s our history, and we want to really paint a diverse, equitable picture of what was happening in California back then. It’s a great side by side parallel, which a lot of times I think we don’t see.”
Part of the Fourth of July celebration, added Cacciotti, could include a salute to the El Adobe Flores, also known as “The Juan Perez Adobe,” a historic house in South Pasadena. The structure was built on Rancho San Pascual from 1838 to 1845 and named in honor of José María Flores (1818-1866), the Mexican Governor of California from 1846 to January 13, 1847. The Adobe Flores was restored by architect Carleton Winslow in 1919 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places since June 18, 1973.
“I think it’s important to include a part of California’s history when it comes time to reflect on the country’s independence,” stressed Cacciotti.
Cacciotti is not the only one who would like to see period dress clothing incorporated into this year’s Festival of Balloons’ festivities. During a trip one year to Westbranch, Iowa on July 4th, South Pasadena Councilmember Evelyn Zneimer noticed a group of women dressed in colonial times costumes – bonnets and long dresses – serving lemonade as cars exited a freeway near the town square where the day’s parade was being held. “Along the parade route on every other corner on both sides of the street were women and little girls and boys dressed in colonial garb,” said Zneimer. “The boys dressed in their breeches and hats helped the women serve free lemonade to the spectators.”
Zneimer remembers seeing nearly everyone – men, women and children – decked out in colonial attire. “Some had the American flag sewn on their costume, especially the women with their petticoats and bonnets,” she recalled. “It was an amazing sight.”
Westbranch police rode horses along the parade route, joining other equestrians taking part, most carrying American flags. Two carriages loaded with children pulled by horses as the coachmen donned vintage clothing.
And pie was in abundance, served in the town square at – get this – twenty-five cents a slice!
Talking with a local librarian at the time, Zneimer discovered that many of the town’s 4th of July traditions date back decades and “everyone was expected to dress their part,” she said.
South Pasadena, like many communities from coast-to-coast, will be celebrating its first 4th of July parade and fireworks show since 2019. Festival of Balloons organizers met this week by Zoom and selected Sam Hernandez, a dedicated community volunteer, as its chair, replacing Joe Payne, who has stepped down and will now serve as vice-chair. Hernandez is long known for his many contributions to Little League Softball and Baseball in town and also is a local Chamber of Commerce board member.
When it came time during the meeting to vote on a theme, committee members were all in agreement, accepting unanimously that the parade move in a new direction this year.
“I really think the theme is an opportunity in helping bring our country back together, especially after what we’ve all gone through the past couple of years,” said Cacciotti. “When you go back to the founding of our republic, it really was many diverse groups coming together, working for a common cause. We may have our differences, but remember we’re all one nation, trying to make our great country even greater.”