Fourth of July celebration special to immigrants
Srgian Paitich holds his certificate of naturalization. | Rob Dicker~Sun-Times Media
FOURTH OF JULY LINEUP
Theme: “Highland Park: A Look Back in Time”
Grand Marshals: Mayor Nancy Rotering and former mayors Ray Geraci, Dan Pierce and Michael Belsky.
Parade: Begins at 9:30 a.m. July 4 with the Children’s Bike & Pet Parade. The annual Independence Day Parade will begin at 10 a.m. starting at the intersection of Laurel and St. Johns avenues.
Route: From Laurel Avenue, parade heads north on St. Johns, turns west on Central Avenue, and continues to Sunset Park.
Fourth Fest: The Park District’s party at Sunset Park from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. will feature food vendors, live musical performers, carnival rides, a petting zoo, pony rides and picnic games.
Battle of the Bands: At 6 p.m., the seventh annual Late Nite HP Bitter Jester Battle of the Bands concert will be held at Wolters Field.
Fireworks: At dusk, the fireworks display can be viewed from Wolters Field.
Significant city birthdays: Highland Park Library (125 years), Girls Scouts (100 years), Sunset Foods (75 years), Ravinia Festival Women’s Board (50 years), Sherwood School (50 years).
Quote: “This Fourth of July we are looking back and celebrating who we are and where we have come from as a nation and as a community,” said Mayor Nancy Rotering. “Bringing this group together represents all of the civic leaders who helped shape our past and set our course for the future.”
Updated: July 29, 2012 6:53AM
The Highland Park community will come together to celebrate the Fourth of July next week, uniting neighbors who emigrated from countries as far as Romania, Japan, Iran, Armenia, Russia, Poland and Mexico.
Highland Park residents Olivia Paitich and Yoshi Sekiguchi were born in Romania and Japan, respectively, but both have now lived in the United States longer than they have lived in their birth countries.
On July 4, Paitich and Sekiguchi plan to drape themselves in patriotism while enjoying the city’s annual parade and fireworks display, which will celebrate the nation’s 236th birthday.
“It’s the wonderful feeling; everyone is so excited,” said Paitich about her connection to the Fourth of July holiday. “People get up at seven o’clock to stake their claim to a piece of asphalt to see the parade. You see the kids dressed up in patriotic colors, the dogs wearing bandanas. It’s the music, the parade, the history of it.”
Paitich, whose family fled Romania in 1987 seeking political freedom, became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1993. The Paitich family first located to Chicago, then Olivia moved up to Highland Park nearly seven years ago after starting a family of her own.
“Both of my kids are first generation born here,” Paitich said. “My kids consider themselves American, even though they know we came from Romania and Serbia. They were born here so they have all their allegiances here. They say they are American. They know what that means.”
But Paitich and her husband, Srgian, make sure their kids understand how fortunate they are.
“We keep telling them how their father and I really struggled to get here,” she said, explaining that her husband had $50 in his pocket and one change of clothes when he used a makeshift raft to escape persecution.
After safely making it to a refugee camp in Belgrade, Srgian was given three choices for a new home: the United States, Canada or Germany.
“My husband wrote ‘USA, USA, USA,’” Paitich recalled. “For him there was no alternative.”
On Wednesday morning, Olivia Paitich, a member of the Highland Park Chamber of Commerce board, will walk in the city’s July 4 parade with her chamber counterparts.
Her dream Fourth of July would be to take her family to Washington, D.C., to celebrate the nation’s independence at the capital.
Yoshi Sekiguchi boasts an equally fascinating path to Highland Park. He grew up in Japan, in a family that viewed the United States as an enemy.
His hometown of Yokosuka had Japan’s largest harbor, shipbuilding facilities and headquarters of the nation’s Imperial Navy. Sekiguchi’s father was a navy officer; all three of his brothers were pilots; two of them died in kamikaze operations.
“I believe we were the only family which dedicated two sons to the suicide missions,” he said in a Chicago Reader feature published in 2000. “If the war had lasted a few more years, I would have done the same thing. But I’m a kamikaze dropout.”
Just as he told the Reader 12 years ago, Sekiguchi truly believes that “yesterday’s enemy is today’s friend.”
In the same article he was called the Japanese Hank Williams because of his abiding love of country music. Sekiguchi first heard country music on FEN (Far East Network) radio as a teenager in Japan.
Now an 81-year-old U.S. citizen, with three grandchildren born here, he is a proud, patriotic American.
Sekiguchi plans to continue celebrating the Fourth of July on Wednesday night as he has done for decades: taking in fireworks from Highland Park’s lakefront.