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Matt Von Pinnon, Published July 03 2011

Von Pinnon: Celebrating the spirit of ’76 in south-central Moorhead

Growing up a block from Moorhead State’s Alex Nemzek Field, I’ve always loved Independence Day.

Every year at dusk on the Fourth of July, thousands of people descend on my old stomping grounds for the annual fireworks display.

I try to make it there each year, and, when I do, I park in my dad’s driveway.

While most of the people who arrive there that night come for the big fireworks, I come for other reasons, many of which bring me back to fond childhood memories of growing up in south-central Moorhead.

The best part of the city’s annual Independence Day celebration is in its chaos.

Parking can be difficult. Area streets are congested with late-arrivers. A smoky haze and lots of popping and whistling typically fill the air from all the fireworks sideshows going on in the area. The smell of gunpowder is everywhere.

Scared and startled dogs bark. People jaywalk with lawn chairs in hand. Kids run, some with sparklers or firecrackers in hand. The Tastee Freez parking lot is full, and there are lines of people waiting to order.

Most of this still happens just as it did when I was a kid.

But one significant thing has changed over the years that has diminished the experience of Moorhead’s annual showcase.

When I was a kid in the ’70s and ’80s, south-central Moorhead was home to most of the area’s migrant farm-worker population.

Hispanics from Texas and even Mexico would come to Moorhead in the summers to work in area fields, often hoeing or hand-picking weeds, before new crop varieties and farming practices replaced the need for them.

The many Hispanics in our old neighborhood would gather on the Fourth and celebrate it like nothing I’ve seen since.

A mix of traditional music and Madonna’s hits would blare from speakers while the little kids played games and the older kids and adults shot off what seemed like an endless supply of bottlerockets, firecrackers and fountains.

The wonderful smells of their home cooking filled the air near the Halliday Motel, Romkey Park neighborhood and Greenwood Mobile Home Park.

Despite their modest means and hard-scrabble lives, they danced the day and night away every July Fourth, and it made a big impression on me as a kid.

They came to Moorhead to better their lives and, in doing so, they made my life richer, more wordly. It was a powerful Independence Day lesson early in life.

Migrant farm workers no longer play a major role in our area like they did when I was a kid. Some assimilated in the community and made better lives for themselves. Others returned to their winter homes and never came back.

Now, something is missing: a piece of Moorhead’s past that was most vibrantly displayed on the Fourth of July in the city’s south-central side.

Our country was borne of chaos, borne of battles. It should be celebrated amid surroundings that remind us of that – loud noises, a smoky haze, the smell of gunpowder.

Ideally, it should also be shared with those striving for newfound freedoms.

Von Pinnon is editor of The Forum. Reach him at (701) 241-5579