"You're here for so long, you adapt to American ways and holidays. It's a part of me now," Perez, who immigrated from Mexico 22 years ago, said in Spanish as he grilled a picnic feast for his family at Detroit's Belle Isle park.
"Today is about our freedom. It's about learning a new heritage," said his 11-year-old son, Edward.
They were among the millions of Americans celebrating the Fourth from beaches to backyard barbecues, at concert venues and elsewhere.
Millions gazed skyward from waterfront spots and rooftops throughout New York City on Monday night at the Fourth of July fireworks display billed as the nation's largest.
"It's awesome," said Shannon Ashenfelter, 24. "I've never seen so many fireworks before in my life."
The 30-minute display, sponsored by the Macy's department store chain, featured 35,000 shells launched from several barges. In honor of the city's pending bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games, the display included symbolic gold, silver and bronze waterfalls and red apples representing the Big Apple. New York will find out on Wednesday whether it will host the Olympics.
Far from their loved ones, troops serving in Iraq marked the holiday as best they could. At Al Asad Air Base, Marine Cpl. Traben Pleasant, 24, of Long Beach, California, drank a nonalcoholic beer and thought of home.
"This is my third July Fourth in Iraq," Pleasant said. "I miss my family and friends. At home, I'd be barbecuing on the beach with my girlfriend."
In Cary, N.C., Capt. Rick Glancy, a National Guard soldier who is back on the job as a police officer after an 18-month tour of duty in Iraq, says he couldn't have asked for a better Fourth of July this year.
A year ago, he was on duty near Baghdad when his convoy was attacked.
"Last year I was in Iraq, thinking about folks back here. Today I am here thinking about soldiers back over there," Glancy told CBS News Affiliate WRAL-TV. "Probably more than anything, being over there, you appreciate things you take for granted here... I have seen some of the worst. Then I come back here and see what we have. And I realize there is nothing like the United States."
In Washington, D.C., nostalgia and new music were both in style on the National Mall as Gloria and Emilio Estefan were honored for their musical and charity work, and the Beach Boys, Il Divo, Kimberley Locke and the O'Jays performed before the fireworks. The O'Jays, pounding out "Love Train" and "I Love Music," were very nearly human flags - decked out in all sorts of red, white and blue.
In Philadelphia, singer Elton John was presented the city's first-ever Philadelphia City of Brotherly Love Humanitarian Award for his work for people with HIV and AIDS; the ceremony was held in front of Independence Hall, birthplace of the Declaration of Independence.
From behind dark blue sunglasses, John smiled approvingly as a group of youngsters from the First Philadelphia Charter School for Literacy sang a lyrical rendition of his song, "Philadelphia Freedom."
In Boston, hundreds of thousands of revelers dashed to the banks of the Charles River to get prime viewing spots for the annual Boston Pops concert and fireworks show. Organizers expected more than 300,000 people to gather along the Esplanade, which extends for three miles along the river.
"It's nerve-racking until you get your tarp down," said Sarah Broughton, 31, of Somerville, Massachusetts, who nailed down a front-row spot by getting in line at 10:30 p.m. Sunday to wait for the gates to open Monday morning.
The holiday had special meaning for Andrew Lynch since he moved last year from New Mexico to Baltimore, where an attack on Fort McHenry during the War of 1812 inspired "The Star-Spangled Banner," the U.S. national anthem.
"It makes it more real to me. It's more exciting. I can envision it," Lynch said.
The day also held special meaning for 80 men, women and children from 36 countries who were sworn in Monday as citizens at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's home in Virginia.
"This is a great day for me to be an American citizen," said Darya Salih Askari, who came to America from Iraq. "This is a great country."
In Miami Beach, Florida, a naturalization ceremony for six children kicked off that city's Independence Day celebration. "You feel like another person," said 14-year-old Misha Orosz, who once lived in an orphanage in Siberia.
In Pawtucket, Rhode Island, a fireworks show had to be called off when a misfiring shell set off other explosives on the ground and caused minor injuries to several people the night before the holiday.
In Florida, three shark attacks in the past two weeks along the Gulf of Mexico coast - one of them fatal - didn't keep holiday visitors away, but many stayed close to shore or out of the water altogether.
In Texas, however, it was an uncommonly quiet Independence Day on the beach at Sea Rim State Park in Sabine Pass, about 85 miles east of Houston. It was closed Monday because five sharks were spotted during the weekend.