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  Living the American Dream  
  Local whose roots began in another country but now call the United States home share what being an American means to them.  
  Yukari Griffith gets to share the excitement of Independence Day celebrations with her family in the United States.  

By Jenny Fauser

Unlike other areas of the country, where the population doesn’t represent a melting pot but more a singular Crayola color, Central Florida is rich with diversity.
As Americans mix and mingle in grocery stores and churches, and children learn side by side, society becomes more familiar with those who look different. Realizing the significance of shared beliefs and values reflects patriotism across the spectrum.
“I feel very blessed to be part of America,” says Lillian Jacobs, originally from Puerto Rico, and mom to four beautiful children. “It means freedom, new life, and better opportunities. I met my husband here, so it means a dream come true.”

A Wealth of Opportunities
Opportunity is a basis that has inspired movement to the United States for decades. For Yukari Griffith, a Japanese woman living in Winter Garden with her husband Warren and their children, she’s taken the opportunities here and shared them with her home country of Japan.
The couple leads an outreach program called Mission to Japan. The program seeks to introduce Japanese students to the love of Christ through homestay programs hosted by families in Central Florida and with mission trips abroad to Japan.
“At first I liked celebrating the Fourth of July just because of the party atmosphere. I watched the smiling faces of people at the parade, waved the American flag at the outdoor concert to Sousa's Stars and Stripes Forever, and stayed out late at night with friends to watch the fireworks. But as years went by and I grew older, my appreciation for the country of America grew stronger, too. Because I'm a Bible-believing Christian from a non-Christian nation (Japan has less than 1 percent of the population claiming to be Christians), I feel at home here in America knowing that it was founded on the same faith I have,” says Griffith.
That faith in which the United States was founded boldly brought people together to form the strongest nation in the world.

The Historical Significance
Melissa Rosier, a Puerto Rican woman and educator in Orange County loves the Fourth of July holiday because of its historical meaning. “I think that if I think about the deeper meaning of the Fourth of July celebration I am amazed that a group of people were determined to create something bigger than them.”
Lucia Silva, originally from Brazil, echoes that sentiment. “Back home, a lot of people don’t take patriotism seriously. Here in the USA, I see that most Americans love and respect their country. I can see one big nation together fighting for the good of their country.”
Being an American is more than waving the stars and stripes and going to baseball games – though both are favored past times. Being an American digs deep into the hearts of those who enjoy freedom, who fight for the rights of humanity, and who hold the same beliefs as the country’s forefathers that all men are created equal.
Rosier believes being an American comes with a great amount of responsibility. “This country became a nation because people from the Old World came to this New World,” she says. “Those that came here left behind family members, property, and communities in search of a life that allowed them certain freedoms. The USA became the nation it is because many fought for the right to be able to choose and not be attacked for their beliefs. The foundation of this country is one that entitles all of us to accept and encourage diversity even when we don’t agree with it. Americans have a responsibility to promote tolerance, acceptance, and the fair and humane treatment of others whether we agree with them or not. In essence, lack of all those qualities goes against what our forefathers wanted and desired for this country, which can be considered anti-patriotic.”
As an ESE specialist at Kid’s Community College in Ocoee, Rosier spends her days striving to secure educational success for all students and sees first-hand the importance of this diversity and fairness.

Proud to Be an American
As the United States grows in social solidarity, one thing is certain: Americans love America. “It warms my heart to actually see the love that people have for America,” says Griffith. “I love the outward expression of patriotism here and I think that is my favorite part of Independence Day.”
This patriotism doesn’t just live in the hearts of those born within the United States, but it also extends to those that have created a second home, and a new life, here with their families. Silva says, “It’s funny, because I feel like I shouldn’t be proud of changing my nationality. However, I do not hesitate – even for one minute – to tell everyone that this is my country now.”
Of course, beyond diversity, opportunity, and strength, Americans also enjoy the fun of the holiday. Shimmers and sparkles, hot dogs and horseshoes, there’s not a celebration around that explodes with as much excitement as Independence Day. Family fun is the name of the game for Silva, her husband David and their two children, who spend the day grilling out, setting off fireworks, and watching the patriotic display at Lake Eola or Altamonte Springs. It’s all about spending time with family and friends while enjoying fireworks, the beach, barbecue, and music for Jacobs.
Griffith was in awe of the celebrations as a child and took part in them once they came to the U.S. “Before my family immigrated to America, my dad was actually in Atlanta in 1976 when he witnessed the bicentennial celebration of Independence Day,” she says. “He came home later that year and told us of the huge parade and the fireworks he saw and showed us pictures. When we did move to the States, my parents would take us to see the parade in downtown Atlanta or go see fireworks almost every year, and it was just so much fun. I think Americans know how to celebrate.”
Rosier sums it up well in her parting thoughts on this valued holiday. “Americans are incredibly patriotic and understand what it is to sacrifice everything for their country. They understand sacrifice, loyalty, and have unquestionable faith in their people. I believe that when Americans feel attacked by other nations they tend to look beyond color, religion, socio-economic status, and all other criteria that may separate them in all other circumstances.” 
Americans will honor those who’ve secured the country’s freedom this Independence Day, and although the look of the United States spans the colors of the human rainbow, pride in this great nation shines uniform.  

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