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The Fourth of July is one of Lupita Alvarez's favorite American holidays. She especially likes how Juneau and Douglas celebrate the special day.
"I like the fireworks and the parades. The sandcastle contest on Sandy Beach is one of the activities that interests me most," said Alvarez, 43. She moved from her hometown, Mexico City, to Juneau 16 years ago after marrying Mayor Bruce Botelho.
This year, instead of watching the parade from a distance with others in the audience, Alvarez and Botelho will be part of the celebration. The Douglas Fourth of July Committee selected the couple as the grand marshals for this year's parade.
"Bruce has been an Assembly member and a mayor before. Lupita has kept the Juneau Montessori School vibrant," said Richard Poor, member of the Douglas committee. "We want to recognize them for their contributions to the community."
Botelho, who has lived in Douglas since 1978, said the parade is the single annual event that unifies the community.
"The most significant part of the parade is to bring thousands of people together and to see friends you haven't seen for a long time," he said.
Alvarez, director of the Juneau Montessori School, said she is honored to lead the parade. She and the mayor will ride in a vehicle. Their 13-year-old son, Alex, will walk with his Boy Scout group. Their 8-year-old daughter, Adriana, will decorate her bike and ride it with her friend in the parade.
Growing up in Mexico, Alvarez had celebrated Independence Day, but a different one.
"Mexico's Independence Day is Sept. 15," she said. "We had fireworks, colorful parades and music the whole night. Mexicans tend to celebrate big time. The party spirit just duplicates or triplicates in Mexico."
Alvarez started celebrating America's Independence Day after she married Botelho in September 1988. The couple met at a folk dance camp in Mexico in 1987.
Moving to Juneau was quite a cultural shock for Alvarez, who lived in a tropical city with a population of 24 million.
"In Mexico, families and friends are very close but here people like their independence. This is one thing I find hard to accept," Alvarez said. "Young people need support. If they have a support group, the likelihood of their making poor choices is smaller."
Although she likes the strong family values and food in Mexico, Alvarez enjoys raising her family here in Juneau.
"Mexico City is a huge city. You are worried about your personal safety all the time," she said. "Juneau is a small, peaceful community and it is very family-oriented and children-friendly."
I-Chun Che can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.