The Mecca Temple Motor Patrolmen roared by on their shiny wine-colored motorcycles. A group called the "Turkeys on the Run Cloggers" floated slowly past, hopping and fiddling and dancing. A large man with a funny red nose, a red wig and polkadot pajamas approached the cheering crowd.
Sienong Phu, a slight and thoughtful Vietnamese, turned from the parade in Takoma Park to adress an acquaintance: "American customs are very different from ours," he said.
Together with a few other recent immigrants to the United States, Sienong Phu and a friend joined a large crowd yesterday to celebrate the Fourth of July with a parade. Although Takoma Park and its neighbor, Silver Spring, are ethnically rich neighborhoods, with large Hispanic and Oriental communities, most of the foreign-born chose not to attend the cheerful three-hour parade.
Those who did go enjoyed themselves hugely. "There's just something I like about a parade," said Dr. Benedicta Meneses, who 10 years ago left the Philippines with her family to come here. Three of her four children were with her, equipped with baseball caps and ice cream.
"Here comes my favorite part now," said Meneses as the bikers from the Shrine temple approached. She goes to every Fourth of July parade her work schedule allows, and hasn't gotten tired of them yet. She was not surprised that there were few other foreign-born persons in the audience. "This is not their independence day. I'm sure we all celebrate our own day. I used to go to the Filipino event, but I don't any more."
Viet Tan Vinh, was, like his friend Sienong Phu, watching his first Fourth of July parade. "There are parades in Vietnam too," he said. "Very military." Both Vietnamese arrived in the United States a year ago and work at a Marriott hotel. "We like it here because it's free," said Vinh.
Many parade watchers placed their hands over their hearts as a contingent from the Veterans of Foreign Wars paraded by with the American flag. Sienong considered the differences between his new world and the one he left in Saigon. "Americans are funny and friendly and kind," he said. "We are more traditional. Our government is not good. Communist. The government before was not so good either. It didn't like the people.
"Here, there is freedom. And also many differences from our customs and cultures. In Vietnam, we grow rice with our hands. Here everything is grown with machines. Sometimes it's difficult to learn so much."
Sienong had the bad luck to be living in Cambodia with his family in 1975. He remained there for four years. When he finally managed to flee to Thailand only his daughter was with him. Seven other members of his family had been killed. "My wife, my mother, my sister . . ." he says gently, his voice trailing off. Now he thinks he will remain in the United States for the rest of his life.
Such a heavy burden of sadness was not apparent in others. For the family of Minerva Khawaja of Jordan, the parade was perhaps the most joyful event in their lives. "We like America so much," she burbled. Her son, Basem, is studying at Columbia Union College, the local Seventh Day Adventist school, and looks forward to majoring in dentistry. Yasmin, her daughter, said the whole family is working "to make a better future for everyone."
Khawaja and her mother, Badia Nikho, had no trouble spelling out what they liked so much about America. "I am Christian, all the people here are Christian. I like America, God bless it!" each exclaimed.
At one end of the parade, a stand featuring shish kebabs and empan adas provided welcome touches of foreign spice to the all-American event.
Jocelyn Paska, who ran the kebab stand with Chilean friends, was pleased with the sales. The empan adas disappeared before the parade ended, but not many of the American spectators were adventurous enough to try the cheviche, an Oriental marinated fish salad.
Paska watched as the parade drew to an end and the crowd, a rich melange of black and white skin, was preparing to disperse. "It is true that blacks have become very much integrated into the independence celebrations here," she said. "Latins and other foreign-borns just don't come."