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The sights and sounds of celebration will illuminate greater Los Angeles today as dozens of July Fourth activities—from small neighborhood barbecues to historic parades and popular fireworks displays—mark America’s birthday. It is an opportunity to pay tribute to the nation’s founding 237 years ago in New England, and also a special time for communities to band together and reflect on America’s active service personnel who are striving and sacrificing daily to maintain the ideals of “… life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Here are a few events scheduled this afternoon and evening each designed to exclaim, “Happy Birthday, America!”:

• It is probably the biggest fireworks show on the West Coast. The Rose Bowl in Pasadena will host “Americafest 2013,” with a festival at 2 p.m. in the parking lot. After all of the hot dogs and burgers have been consumed, gates will open at 6:30 p.m., with the yearly concert scheduled for 7 p.m. The famous fireworks show starts promptly at 9 p.m. Tickets are $13 each, with children under 7 years old, and military personnel admitted free. Parking is $20. For more details, call the Rose Bowl at (626) 577-3100.

• Another fireworks show at a famous stadium will take place tonight at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The venerated stadium will host its 11th annual Fireworks Extravaganza on the east lawn beginning at 9 p.m. Also, look for music and giveaways from radio station KJLH-FM at 3 p.m. on the south lawn. Councilmember Bernard Parks (8th District) will kick off the day’s festivities at noon with “Jazz on the Hill” at Norman O. Houston Park, 4800 S. La Brea Ave. There will be a selection of food vendors, arts and crafts and activities for children. The California African American Museum will also host events from 6 to 8 p.m. In past decades, the Coliseum hosted a yearly fireworks show until budget cuts eliminated it in the late 1990s. Parks helped spearhead the return to this annual South Los Angeles event. For more information, call (213) 745-0139.

“I’m really excited for the 11th annual Fireworks Extravaganza this year at the Coliseum,” Parks said. “Pyro Spectaculars is doing the show, and it’s going to be phenomenal. I’m proud to, and will continue to, provide the fireworks show to the community—to provide a safe and fun place for all to enjoy the Fourth of July holiday.”

• The 109th annual Huntington Beach Parade will begin at 10 a.m. today. It is the state’s oldest and largest July Fourth parade, this year beginning at Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) and 8th Street, proceeding south on PCH, where it will turn left on Main Street and continue to Yorktown Avenue. There is never a cost for the parade, which this year, will include celebrities Lou Ferrigno, Nicole Eggert, Tim Conway Jr. and Gary Bryan of radio station KRTH. Teenage star Karan Brar from the Disney Channel series “Jessie” will be grand marshal. The parade is part of the Pier Plaza Festival, continuing through July 7. Other events scheduled for today include the Huntington Beach Kiwanis Club pancake breakfast at Lake Park, beginning at 6:30 a.m.; the Surf City 5-K Run and Fitness Expo from 6 to 10 a.m. at Worthy Park (Main and 17th streets), and the famous fireworks show at Huntington Beach Pier at 9 p.m. Parking is limited and parade-goers will need time to walk to the route and find a good viewing location. Officials suggest bringing cash for nearby parking lots. For details, call (714) 536-5486.

• The Queen Mary in Long Beach will host July Fourth activities beginning at noon. The day will include a walking tour of the famous ocean liner, live entertainment and a fireworks show set for 9 p.m. Tickets are $39.99 for adults, $19.99 for children 3 years and older, and free for active-duty military personnel (with military ID). For more details, call the Queen Mary at (562) 435-3551.

• A “July Fourth Block Party” will be held today at 3 p.m. at the new Grand Park, 200 N. Grand Ave., in Downtown Los Angeles. The new park offers views extending from the Music Center to City Hall and features open spaces for casual sitting, strolling and amenities for civic gatherings. For details, call (323) 887-4427.

• A few miles east of downtown, the Boyle Heights Concert and Fireworks Show will take place at Hollenbeck Park, 415 S. St. Louis St., at 5 p.m. Included will be free music, community booths, food booths and a “moon bounce” for kids. Fireworks will begin at sundown. Officials request visitors not bring barbecue grills, alcohol, pets, canopies, umbrellas or glass bottles. For more information, call (323) 526-3059.

• The California African American Museum (CAAM) will present live musical acts from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today at Exposition Park. The program will be co-hosted by Jamaica-born actor, Jeffrey Anderson-Gunter and singer Nita Whitaker LaFontaine, who will sing the National Anthem. All CAAM events are free throughout the year, but RSVPs are encouraged. Parking for $10 is available in the lot adjacent to the museum at 39th and Figueroa streets. For details, call (213) 744-2024.

• Santa Monica’s “2013 July Fourth Parade” is set for 9:30 a.m. today along Main Street, beginning at Pico Boulevard, turning right on Marine Street, and then another right onto Barnard Way. Parking will be available at Civic Center garage at Santa Monica Place. For details, visit website www.opa-sm.org.

• StubHub Center (formerly Home Depot Center) at Cal State Dominguez Hills in Carson will host a fireworks show following tonight’s 7:30 matchup between the defending Major League Soccer champion Los Angeles Galaxy and the Columbus Crew. For details, contact the LA Galaxy at website lagalaxy.com.

• The Hollywood Bowl, another famous local venue for July Fourth festivities, will present its “July 4th Fireworks Spectacular.” Josh Grobin will headline tonight at 7:30 with the fireworks show following the concert. For tickets or more information, call (310) 850-2000.

• Lynwood will present its annual July Fourth celebration beginning at 3 p.m. at Lynwood City Park at Bullis Road and Century Boulevard. Fireworks will go off at sundown and admission is free. For more details, call (310) 603-0220.

• Cabrillo Beach in San Pedro, 3720 Stephen M. White Drive, will host its free Independence Day festivities, beginning at 2 p.m. The fireworks show will begin at 9 p.m. For more details, call (310) 548-7401.

• The city of Gardena will host a fireworks show tonight at 9 at Rawley Park, 13220 S. Van Ness Ave. Admission is free. For details, call (310) 217-9537.

The big parks and famous venues are not the only places in town where July Fourth is celebrated. Often, our most humble neighborhood veterans’ and service organizations will set up the barbecue and folding tables, string the red, white and blue bunting, judge the potato sack race and even churn homemade ice cream to elicit memories of family fun. At the same time, they provide a more personal perspective of American patriotism. Organizations such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), the American Legion, Daughters of the American Revolution, etc., each year host picnics, sell fireworks, sponsor parade floats and, at least for this day, brush off the old uniform and cap and wear them with pride.

“July Fourth is an important day among veterans,” said John Garcia of VFW Post 2967 in Wilmington. “This year we will have our traditional barbecue and this money goes to veterans in our neighborhood. The day is an opportunity to show our patriotism and also to do something good in our own community.” Barbecue dinner at the Post is $5 per plate from noon to dusk.

There are inherent risks associated with fireworks. Each holiday, many persons nationwide—particularly children—are injured when they mishandle dangerous explosives. Two weeks ago, Los Angeles County police and fire agencies set off the so-called “M-1000” and other firecrackers to demonstrate the potential harm caused by illegal fireworks. Today’s “cherry bombs” and skyrockets are much more sophisticated and powerful than a generation ago, and that’s why local officials encourage the public to attend one of the nearby professional shows instead of risking serious injury at home.

“As you and your family are celebrating our nation’s independence, remember that fireworks are illegal in the city of Los Angeles,” said Los Angeles Fire Chief Brian Cummings. “Please celebrate this wonderful holiday with your family and friends by visiting one of the many fireworks shows offered throughout the city and county.” Cummings said any of the illegal fireworks that were on display could easily blow off a hand or foot, severely damage hearing and even blind you. Last week, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies arrested three men after seizing 3,000 pounds of illegal fireworks from a San Gabriel Valley garage. That’s only a fraction compared to what one undercover arson inspector said has been confiscated this year, 62,000 pounds of contraband fireworks.

Practically all the illegal fireworks are from China. They come into the docks intended for another state, but most don’t make it out of the city. “You see this?” asked Los Angeles fire Capt. Tom Richards pointing to a pair of the grapefruit-sized ordnance popular in the illicit street trade. “This is a professional firework. It can go up in the air 500 feet. It is not the fireworks we used as kids.” With that, Richards held up a mortar round often used at Disneyland or any other amusement park and compared it to what is used by amateurs in a residential neighborhood. “It’s a bomb,” Richards said.

The penalty for using fireworks in Los Angeles is $1,000 or up to six months in jail. If someone setting off fireworks should accidentally set a roof on fire, they’re liable for paying damages. Penalties for larger explosives, such as M-80s, range from $300 to $10,000 plus jail or prison time.

From childhood, Americans know of the sacrifice and uncertainty of the Revolutionary War. In 1775, citizens of New England began fighting the British for their independence. On July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress met in Philadelphia and secretly voted for rebellion against King George III, with Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence published two days later. The first reading was on July 8, 1776, and the initial signing—from Samuel Adams of Massachusetts to William Whipple of New Hampshire—took place on Aug. 2, 1776. The first description of how Independence Day should be celebrated was in a letter from John Adams to his wife, Abigail, on July 3, 1776:

“The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.”

Adams was off by two days, but from the outset Americans have celebrated independence on July Fourth, rather than the day independence was approved. The term Independence Day was not used until 1791.

There were Americans, though, who fought in the French-Indian Wars, the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 and the Mexican War whom the “blessings of liberty” had not yet been proclaimed. On July 5, 1852, in Rochester, N.Y., Frederick Douglass gave a speech commemorating the signing of the Declaration of Independence when he told the audience, “This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.” Within the now-famous address is what historian Philip S. Forner has called “probably the most moving passage in all of Douglass’ speeches”:

“What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sound of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shout of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy—a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.”

Bristol, R.I., plays host to the nation’s oldest July Fourth parade and celebration; it began in 1785. Seward, Neb. has held a celebration on the same town square since 1868, and, since 1916, Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest has been held at Coney island in Brooklyn, N.Y. Among the nation’s most popular and venerable July Fourth celebrations are “A Capitol Fourth” in Washington, D.C.; “Macy’s Fourth of July” in New York City; the “Big Easy Fireworks Show” in New Orleans, La.; “A Music City Fourth” in Nashville, Tenn.; the “Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular” in Boston, Mass., the “Independence Day Fireworks Show” in Philadelphia, Pa., and San Francisco’s “Fourth of July Spectacular.”