Perspectives: What Does Independence Day Mean To You?


By Heather Bennett

The beauty of The Emerald Coast brings together people from all walks of life, political views, religions, and races. On Independence Day we celebrate the birth of our nation in one of the most beautiful locations in the country. While some of us may disagree over the current state of affairs of this nation, I think we can all agree we love the United States of America, and all the freedoms it allows us.

To celebrate this Independence Day, and celebrate our differences as we come together, we asked members of our community, from different backgrounds, what Independence Day means to them.

Clint & Effie Eagar – Clint, an industrial designer and artist, and his wife Effie, co-founder of TechX International, and Destin residents, have a true modern-day immigrant story. Clint grew up in South Africa during apartheid, and Effie lived in mainland China. Both left their countries in search of a promising future. What Does Independence Day Mean to Me? “For both of us now citizens of this fine country we truly value all that this day truly means. For us it’s not as simple as picnics, concerts, barbecues, parades, etc. It’s not being persecuted, murdered, and all your liberties taken. It celebrates the legal journey we took and all the steps to create the life we now experience on a day to day basis. July 4th stands for what most of the world’s population craves for and the safety of our liberties. It’s interesting because my wife and I come from extremely different countries and cultural backgrounds, yet as human beings, have the common bond of hope, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Tim Norris – Tim is the Walton County Republican Party Committeeman. He was born at Eglin Air Force Base to a military family and was raised in the area. Tim has enjoyed taking his family out to Crab Island to watch the fireworks in the Destin pass on the 4th of July. What Does Independence Day Mean to Me? “Independence Day means freedom. Our forefathers gave us great liberty in signing the Declaration of Independence, as did those who fought for our freedom in the Revolutionary War. All who have since fought to help us maintain our freedom are to be honored and recognized as well. Freedom isn’t free. May God Bless America and all those who have served and are currently serving.”

Joceley Durette – Joceley, and husband Greg with Florida Blue, are local residents. Joceley grew up in Brazil, her parents and siblings still there. Though she had a good job and a stable, successful family, she moved to America to seek a better life and opportunities for her kids. At first settling in Cape Cod, Mass., they watched 4th of July festivities from their home window. Since moving to this area, the meaning has been heightened even more. What Does Independence Day Mean to Me? “I feel America is the best country in the world! Too many Americans take it for granted. When I arrived here, everything amazed me. The police actually show up when you call with support from an ambulance, firetruck and whatever is needed. The internet works and at speeds I never imagined. Hospitals and health centers fix you first and ask questions later. I couldn’t believe seeing businesses like Home Depot leave stuff outside (plants, mulch, lawnmowers) and nobody steals anything. Kids leave toys or bikes in front of the house and the next day, they are still there! We are free to do whatever we want (within reason) without the government telling us what to do and how to feel. Most respect each other regardless of color, nationality, sex or socio-economic level. Simple things like playing ball on the beach or more serious issues like the 2nd Amendment are respected rights. We don’t need the government to tell us which school is good for our kid or which doctor we can go to or what color we can paint our house. Work hard, have faith in God, cherish our blessings and friends, love our family and enjoy the beauty of life are my duties as a citizen to keep America great. I am forever thankful for the brave men and women that made and keep us independent and free.” And her kids have learned that, in America, if you work hard, are kind and respect others, you will reach your goals.

Minh Nguyen – Minh is the owner of Minh PC Repairs and Services in Destin. He, his wife and two children all now live in Destin, but Minh hails originally from Vietnam. On Independence Day, Minh and his family take the opportunity and time to appreciate every little thing they have in life. To cap off the day, they like to enjoy the beautiful fireworks with friends and family. What Does Independence Day Mean to Me? “This is a photo of me and my father on July 3, 1987, taken right before we left for the high sea of South China Sea on a ship named Evniki. Just in case we failed our escape attempt, or we became part of the statistics of lost people on the high seas for escaping to search for freedom, my mother back home would have something of us to hold on to. This day means a lot for us: we braved three days on the high seas, three big typhoons, the largest on the third day, and we survived. We got rescued on July 7th. Yes, Freedom! It’s everything!”

Alycia Dukes – Alycia, with Lady of Justice LegalShield, grew up in Austin, TX. Alycia’s 4th of July memories include southern barbecue and fireworks with family and friends. Her family believes in big yards back home with plenty of space for all the fathers on the block to challenge one another. Alycia recalls rushing to Old Navy to get her ‘signature’ free shirt for the year “as that was the thing to do,” she says. What Does Independence Day Mean to Me? “My family is military. So, there has always been a sense of patriotism as it relates to Independence Day. I must admit, however, I am struggling with my emotions this year given the climate we are in. I will always respect our history, but I am praying we have even more to celebrate soon as we continue to evolve!”

Lori Leath Smith – Lori is Publisher and Executive Editor of Bay Life and Destin Life. She is originally from Alabama and grew up visiting Destin with her family. On the 4th of July they would have a shrimp boil and walk down to the beach to watch the fireworks. What Does Independence Day Mean to Me? “Freedom is what Independence Day means to me! It’s also a time of remembrance of what our forefathers fought for – to guarantee our freedom, and thankfulness to be living in and positioned in the greatest country in the world!”

Susan Bowden – Sue is the President of the Democratic Women’s Club of Walton County. She is originally from Massachusetts and spent most of her adult life in Michigan before moving here with her husband in October 2016. She has fond memories celebrating July 4th with her family at Lake Michigan. What Does Independence Day Mean to Me? “My grandparents and great grandparents all came to America in the early 1900s to escape the oppression of Eastern Europe. The ones who stayed behind, were killed by the Nazis in World War II. I am very grateful to live in a country with free speech and a Declaration of Independence that states that all men {and women) are created equal. We don’t have a perfect union yet, but at least there are many people here who stand up for change and strive to effect it.”