The Festival of Balloons and 4th of July celebrations are South Pasadena core traditions. Thousands line Mission Street while representatives from the various communities within the small town stride on, waving American flags and honking their horns. This year’s festival was themed “Freedom on the Road. Celebrating Route 66” and was marshalled by author and South Pasadena resident, Glen Duncan, who wrote “Route 66 in California”. The various faces of residents and legislators were met with constant applause. Newer participants such as Indivisible South Pasadena received roaring applause, not to be outdone by more traditional parties such as California State Senator Anthony Portantino or the occasional dabbing Boy Scout.
The festival culminated at Garfield Park, where thousands of people milled around to the sounds of children playing and the South Pasadena High School band. The day slowly sauntered on until the raucous explosions of the fireworks show on the SPHS lit up the field at night.
“It’s great to see all the different clubs and communities representing themselves,” local resident Lucas Cereijido said. “I think the festival is a great representation of this town. The atmosphere, the spirit of this town, the community of inclusion and positive thinking. It’s the kids, it’s for the kids.”
The parade, festivities and fireworks show went off without a hitch, as is the norm. But there’s more to the tradition than that. Independence Day is an ultimate celebration of community in South Pasadena. Fraternal affection is found anywhere you go during the festival, be it the Pancake Breakfast or the children’s games in Garfield Park. And while there’s a welcoming monotony to the suburban ritual (eating pancakes, watching the parade, relaxing at Garfield Park and viewing the fireworks, year in and year out) that’s not the value to be found in it. The value lies in bringing the community together and creating a safe, friendly environment for residents of all ages and backgrounds to celebrate Independence Day together.
One of the most endearing groups in the festival is the South Pasadena D.U.D.E.S. (Dads Uniting Dads in Education and Service). The charitable organization strives for the improvement of “educational facilities and resources for South Pasadena schools”. For one D.U.D.E., Michael Gavlak, the festival has given him something much more than the opportunity to gawk at the dancing orange middle-aged men. While attending his first Festival of Balloons, Gavlak met the D.U.D.E.S.
“Suddenly I had a bunch of friends. Legitimate friends. We all live in the same neighborhood, our kids go to the same schools. All of that in common, it’s something you don’t find everywhere. Having actual, small town neighborhood feel, 10 minutes from one of the biggest cities in the world,” Gavlak said. “You’re just like wow. ‘Suddenly I don’t live here, I belong here.’ That’s what the parade means to me.”
After meeting the group of dads at the festival three years ago, Gavlak has been welcomed into the inclusive arms of the congenial community.
“It’s truly an opportunity to embrace what community is supposed to be,” Gavlak said. “This is the definition of community.”