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Gillespie Park Fourth of July event centers Hispanic voices

Written by on Saturday, July 8, 2023

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ anti-immigration law has left many Hispanic Floridians feeling unwelcome in their own homes. But this Fourth of July, one celebration focused on Latin American voices in the community.

By Sophia Brown

Original Air Date: July 7, 2023


Official Transcript

Jesse Coleman: Heat in Sarasota was ratcheting up during the Fourth of July this year, but that didn’t stop a group of Sarasota residents from joining in the Gillespie Park Independence Day Celebration. Several local Hispanic groups convened in the park to commemorate the impact of independence movements and the role immigrants have played in building the United States. WSLR’s Sophia Brown has the report.

Host: This year’s Fourth of July came three days after Governor Ron DeSantis’ anti-immigration bill went into effect, something that has inspired national trucker boycotts, immigrant businesses shutting down in protest, and growing fears of racial profiling. For Hispanic communities across the state, a day signifying liberty and justice for all was instead marked by a feeling of being unwelcome in their own homes.

But in Gillespie Park at 9am on the Fourth of July, a different story was being told. Small children ran through the grass holding star-shaped cookies and plastic bags. Parents wore matching red, white and blue outfits with their dogs in tow, while others handed out water bottles and tiny American flags. And speakers from the Sarasota nonprofit, the Hispanic American Association and UnidosNow, along with various Latin American community leaders spoke to a crowd of roughly 50 people about a version of the Fourth of July that centers the history of North, South and Central American independence in equal measure, and an America that can be a land of opportunity for all.

Crowd: And to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. [Applause]

Host: The Gillespie Park Independence Day Celebration, hosted by the Gillespie Park Neighborhood Association, took place in front of the Gallery of Patriots, a collection of statues installed by the Hispanic American Association in 1977.

As speakers for the Independence Day Celebration addressed the crowd, they stood back to back with busts of revolutionaries that many people who grew up in America will recognize: George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson. But alongside them are figures like Venezuelan political leader Simón Bolíva and Cuban national hero José Martí, figures that tell other stories about the fight for independence in the Americas and the Caribbean.

Josefina Carranza: The Fourth of July has always been celebrated here with family, friends, to honor their history, and our history. What better date than today, the Fourth of July, to celebrate the independence of this great nation, which we are also blessed to call home.

Host: That was Josefina Carranza, former president of the Hispanic American Association, who was also joined by Vice Mayor of Sarasota Liz Alpert, who preached being politically aware during these tumultuous times.

Liz Alpert: It’s up to you to get involved. If you want rights in this country, you have the responsibility of making sure you know who’s running for office, making sure you vote and being an active citizens.

Host: Reverend Celestino Gutierrez of the St. Jude Catholic Church also spoke about America’s founding as a land for oppressed people seeking freedom.

Celestino Gutierrez: Our country was built and created by immigrants from all over the world. They come today as they always have to escape violence, political instability, persecution, and they seek opportunity, jobs and safe homes for their families. The American Dream. Let us remember that remember the flag that we respect. Let us secure the freedom of others, promote diversity, and welcome those who make our democracy stronger.

Host: The celebration featured student members of UnidosNow, like graduate of Sarasota High Victoria Garcia, who shared with the crowd the story of her family’s recent migration to the U.S. from Venezuela.

Victoria Garcia: I arrived in December, 2021. And even so, it is hard to start from zero in a new country and having to fight, not only the sadness of leaving your family, but also the challenge that it is learning a new language, I must say that I will forever be grateful for all the opportunities this country has given to me and my family. I have met amazing people and found multiple resource resources that will definitely play an important role in my higher education.

Host: UnidosNow is a program that aims to elevate the quality of life of Sarasota-Manatee’s growing Hispanic community. For students like Victoria, this can include preparation for standardized testing and providing college tours and scholarships. Kathy Schersten, emcee of the event and member of the UnidosNow Board of Directors elaborates.

Kathy Schersten: We have workshops for the parents so they understand the education system in the United States. And we work so the high school kids can understand all about their SATs, their references, how to study for the SAT. We take them on tours of colleges and all that, and then they go on to college and we help them find these colleges that are best for them. This particular year, we had 55, 56 students and we’ve sent him off to college with over $4 million dollars of scholarships.

Host: Schersten also closed the festivities with a quote from Abraham Lincoln.

KS: “Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves,” just think about that.

Host: It was a blisteringly hot morning and what felt like 106 degrees, but heat didn’t stop the crowd from staying behind to participate in a singalong led by Harold Reyes, a vocalist of the St. Jude Church’s choir. For about 30 minutes on the morning of the Fourth of July, members of the Sarasota community stood together in appreciation of the resources that currently exist for young Hispanic people in the community, and in hope that the spirit of liberty and justice for all might shine through this year after all.

Harold Reyes: [Singing] God bless America, land that I love. Stand beside her and guide her, through the night with the light from above.

Host: [Overlapping] This has been Sophia Brown reporting for WSLR News.


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