Happy Dominican Republic Independence Day! The Feb. 27 holiday celebrated by Dominicans in the island country and in heavily Hispanic U.S. cities such as New York and Miami marks the most significant date in the Dominican War of Independence. The battle for sovereignty with the border nation of Haiti in 1844 eventually saw the Dominican Republic win its freedom.

This Friday thus represents the 171st anniversary of the Dominican Republic’s independence from Haiti. Previously, their shared island of Hispaniola had been under Haitian rule for a little more than a couple of decades, after centuries of colonialism, first by the Spanish and then by the French. Nationalist Juan Pablo Duarte helped organize the war against the Haitian regime.

The first Dominican flag was designed and created by Maria Trinidad Sanchez. She used blue to epitomize God’s blessings, red to represent the liberators’ blood and white on the cross to symbolize freedom. To celebrate the holiday, Dominicans often display or wear the national flag.

Dominicans also enjoy traditional food such as plantain mash, or mangu, fried cheese, fried sausage and rice. Recipes can be found here and here. In addition, they listen to music by local artists. Famous singers from the D.R. include Wilfrido Radames Vargas Martinez, Gilberto Santa Rosa and Juan Luis Guerra.

In West New York, New Jersey, city officials have arranged to celebrate Dominican Republic Independence Day with a flag-raising Friday night. Almost 80 percent of West New York residents are Hispanic, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In Salem, Massachusetts, where many residents hail from the Dominican Republic, there will also be a flag celebration.

Meanwhile, crowds of demonstrators marched Wednesday in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince to protest ongoing mistreatment of Haitians living in the Dominican Republic, reports said. The march came just days after a Haitian immigrant was lynched in a public square in the D.R. city of Santiago.