Independence Day celebration in nation’s capital begins on a note of unity

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On a passing float, Sikhs wearing turbans and American flag ties sang “Happy Birthday, U.S.A.” — and Julie Blaskovich watched in awe.

She thought about differences and common ground and a diversity that wasn’t always obvious in her home town of McKinney, Tex.

The 50-year-old mother of four had come to celebrate the Fourth of July on the Mall, among pale-walled buildings and colorful bursts of patriotism — and the city was delivering. A float with the banner “Vietnamese Americans Celebrating Freedom” rolled past shortly after the Sikhs of America’s float.

Blaskovich said she hoped celebrating the birth of “the greatest country on Earth” would help Americans see the ground they share.

“I can’t understand why political differences can’t be discussed without having hate and slander brought into it,” she said. “The Founding Fathers didn’t always agree, but they made it work.”

For many across the Washington region, where parades and concerts were planned before a nighttime fireworks display, the day was about more than standing on different sides of political lines. It was about occupying a communal patriotic space. Democrats and Republicans alike wore ridiculous outfits in shades of red, white and blue.

Brennen Weidl, of Pittsburgh, gave his wife a hard time for not dressing up. He stood on the Mall, sporting a flag on his baseball hat and blue-and-red Chubbies shorts featuring pineapples and flamingos. His 2-year-old daughter, Rooney, wore a red, white and blue sundress adorned with a red bow.

The family came to the District for July 4 as part of Weidl’s work for PNC Bank. He is interviewing veterans under a program called “Hiring for Heroes.”

“My grandfather was a veteran, and he was born on the Fourth of July, and he’s gone now,” said his wife, Dixie Weidl. “I was just saying that being here makes me think about him and the importance of remembering him.”

Political divisions in the country are mirrored in the Weidl home — where Brennen voted for Donald Trump and Dixie for Hillary Clinton — but that hasn’t changed how they celebrate July 4.

“It doesn’t affect anything,” Brennen Weidl said.

“Plus, I’m the kind of Democrat who is like, ‘We lost this one, but we’ll get them next time,’ ” Dixie Weidl said.

The National Independence Day Parade kicked off on time around 11:45 a.m. with a huge American flag carried by dozens of volunteers. The United States Navy Band was scheduled to start playing at 6 p.m., and “A Capitol Fourth Concert” was expected to kick off at 8 p.m. and showcase several well-known acts, including the Beach Boys, the Blues Brothers and Trace Adkins.

The fireworks display, weather permitting, was to begin just after 9 p.m.

The Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang predicted that temperatures could hit the low 90s and warned of a chance of scattered storms in the evening. The National Park Service encouraged those turning out for the celebrations to take along plenty of water and wear loosefitting clothing to reduce the risk of heat-related illnesses.

Cradling his puppy, a Maltese-Yorkshire terrier (or a Morkie) named Victoria, Anthony Lepore, 40, draped a wet towel over her neck to keep her cool.

He and his wife, Christa Lepore, 40, had come from Bergen County, N.J., to mark the holiday in Washington. Christa Lepore said she saw the parade as a way to “help bring people together and remind us that we are united as a nation.”

“Everybody is an American today,” she said.

On the drive from New York’s Harlem to Washington, Gianhna Glasco, 27, kept seeing billboards advertising “Baseball, apple pie, hot dogs, and a sober drive.”

“Literally, that’s what’s promoted as American,” she said. “And it’s so much more than that.”

She and her sister, Gillian Glasco, 32, and her best friend, Brittany Jackson, 27, of Durham, N.C., decided to attend the July 4 parade to make their presence felt as African Americans.

The current state of the country and the “bad place” it’s in makes it hard to want to celebrate, Jackson said. And yet, she said, she wants to be noticed as a citizen and make it known that she is as much a part of the United States as anyone else.

Derrick Saenz-Payne, in a wheelchair near the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, said he views his country as he views his family.

“Just because I critique them and don’t always agree with them doesn’t mean I don’t love them,” said Saenz-Payne, 33, a student in a summer Master of Arts program at Georgetown University.

During the school year, he teaches 11th-grade history in Modesto, Calif., and tries to instill in his students optimism, despite what he says is his own frustration and cynicism.

“It’s kind of humbling to take a step back and realize even though it doesn’t always feel like it, in the scheme of history, we’ve actually made a lot of progress,” said Saenz-Payne, who wore a blue shirt with George Washington’s portrait and “POTUS1.”

“It may be slow, but it’s still a progressive process,” he said.

Emilia Clark and Sunaina Kohli had prime views of the Reflecting Pool and the Washington Monument and even a glimpse of the U.S. Capitol from the top of the steps at the Lincoln Memorial. There, slightly left of center, they had planted their umbrellas and beach towels. Strangers before, they were now neighbors.

Clark, 33, was visiting Washington for the first time with her family from Long Beach, Calif., and said she probably wouldn’t get back to the District. Kohli, 42, moved to the District in September, after coming to the United States from Britain three years ago.

“We’ve just made acquaintance, but we’re neighbors now,” Kohli said with a laugh.

Thinking back on the nearly one year that she has been the city, Kohli said she found the District to be a welcoming, warm community despite the political divisions that often make national headlines.

“People just share a common ground of being good people,” she said. “Look at us! We just sat down and we’re worlds apart in many ways — even professionally, everything — and it’s no big deal.”

When Kohli moved from England to Connecticut, she said she found herself constantly referring to “this country.” Since her relocation to Washington, she’s learned to reject such generalizations.

“There isn’t an ‘American person.’ There’s no stereotypical standard of a person, because the country is too big, too vast, too diverse, and you just have to take people as you find them,” Kohli said.

Clark agreed, adding that locals have been far friendlier here than they would be back home.

“Take each person as they pass,” she said. “Don’t judge them before you know them.”

Just outside Washington, the day took on an even deeper significance for 102 people from 44 countries who stood with their families outside the home of the country’s first president, amid sweeping views of the Potomac.

The Washington Post.