Independence Day Festival Is Offering ‘Little Bit of Mexico’
Cesar and Alicia Carramar have been able to return to Mexico only once since they left their native Guadalajara seven years ago to live and work in Santa Ana.
But Saturday, the Carramars and thousands of other Mexican expatriates treated themselves to a nostalgic reminder of their homeland in a boisterous Mexican Independence Day festival at Santa Ana’s Centennial Regional Park.
“The food and the music is the same as Mexico,” Cesar Carramar said in Spanish on Saturday afternoon as he, his wife and their 2-year-old daughter, Janet, lounged on some cool grass while a popular Mexican group played in the background.
Indeed, Centennial Park has taken on a distinctive south-of-the-border flavor this weekend with a three-day celebration of Sept. 16, Mexico’s Independence Day, that began Thursday night and is to conclude at 11 p.m. today. A peaceful crowd of about 5,000 people turned out for the event Saturday. Today--in what should be the biggest day--organizers expect as many as 25,000 to attend.
For all outward appearances, Centennial Park was Mexico on Saturday.
With a Tijuana-based radio station broadcasting live from the event, a succession of some of Mexico’s more popular bands took the stage to blare out hit after hit from the Mexican pop charts.
Vendors with pushcarts hawked pal e tas (Mexican-style Popsicles) , churros (a Mexican pastry) and chicharrones (fried pig skin) as the smell of roasting carne asada wafted through the air. In game booths, parents tossed rings and darts to try and win dolls and pinatas for their children . Campesinos wearing boots and hats huddled in groups, chatting amicably in Spanish, as other adults sat on the grass, rocking to the beat of the music.
“It’s like a little part of Mexico,” said Salvador Trevino, an event assistant. “It’s like going back to the roots.”
Santa Ana police reported no problems with traffic or crime. Fernando Favela, an event coordinator, said that local Mexican Independence Day celebrations typically draw a family-oriented crowd of Mexican nationals who cause no trouble. Gang violence, he added, has not been a problem in the four years since the celebration has been held in Centennial Park.
As in those previous years, this weekend’s celebration is being sponsored jointly by the city of Santa Ana and the Santiago Club, a nonprofit Latino organization that donates scholarships to Latino students. Proceeds from the events go to those scholarships, event coordinators said.
Hired to put on the event was Riverside Promotions of Hollywood. That company, in turn, contracted for carnival rides and allowed several large food and beverage corporations to set up booths where they could give away coupons. Telemundo, a Spanish-language television station in Los Angeles, gave away T-shirts.
Many Latinos interviewed Saturday said they attended the event primarily to listen to some good Mexican music, but added that they did not care so much for the commercial aspect of the celebration.
“Last year was better because this year they’re charging for everything,” said Ray Martinez, 61, who attended the celebration with his wife, Yolanda, and their infant son.
Martinez grumbled that last year all children younger than 12 were admitted free. This year it cost $1 for children between the ages of 5 and 12. Admission for everyone older than 12 is $5.
Favela, the event coordinator, retorted: “It costs $25 to get in Disneyland.”
For brothers Tereso and Albert Rangel, ages 32 and 34 respectively, the price of admission was more than worth their while. They said they moved from their home in Zacatecas, Mexico, eight years ago, and have returned to visit family only twice. They live in Santa Ana and work at the same fabric shop. Wearing matching gray western hats, the Rangels listened somberly to the music of their homeland, where their seven other brothers and sisters still live.
“I am reminded of Mexico,” Tereso Rangel said sadly.