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Cinco de Mayo makes you proud to say, ‘I’m of Mexican descent.’

On May 5, 1862, the outnumbered troops of Mexican Gen. Ignacio Zaragoza repulsed three French attacks on the town of Puebla.

The battle did not stop the French, who eventually conquered Mexico. But the Mexicans finally drove out the invaders in 1867, and the battle of Puebla took on a symbolic significance that is still noted today in Cinco de Mayo celebrations.

Some of this year’s celebrating will be done here in the South Bay. Los Angeles Harbor College is getting an early start, holding what might be called “Cuatro de Mayo” festivities today.

Then on Saturday, Gardena is kicking off its Cinco de Mayo celebration with a parade at 10 a.m.; festivities will culminate in midday entertainment at Recreation Park. Carson, meanwhile, has organized a daylong festival at Carson Park starting at 11 a.m.

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There are also smaller-scale doings: American Legion posts in Hawthorne and Gardena, for instance, have scheduled Cinco de Mayo dinners and entertainment for Saturday night. In all cases, organizers are hoping public interest will be strong.

“Cinco de Mayo makes you proud to say, ‘I’m of Mexican descent,’ but we’re trying to get the whole community involved,” said Gabriel Duran, an organizer of the Cinco de Mayo events at Carson Park. “We want people to sample a little bit of our culture.”

That means mariachi bands, Mexican food, folk dancing and more.

Today’s activities at Harbor College, located at 1111 Figueroa Place in Wilmington, are open to the public. They include a 10 a.m. speech by Cesar Chavez, the founder and president of the United Farm Workers of America, followed by Mexican food and entertainment on the campus quadrangle.

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In Gardena, the parade will feature 38 entries ranging from the mariachi band Alma de Mexico (Soul of Mexico) to Leticia Fletes, an El Camino College nutrition major who was crowned Gardena’s Miss Cinco de Mayo last week.

Fletes says she hopes that Saturday will mark more than the anniversary of a famous Mexican battlefield victory.

“I’m sure people are going to talk about the war against the French, but I don’t want it to be just for Mexicans,” Fletes said. “I want (the celebration) to apply to everyone.”

The parade is scheduled to begin at New Hampshire Avenue and Gardena Boulevard. It will head west on Gardena to Normandie Avenue and continue north on Normandie to Recreation Park at 158th Street. The parade will be followed by mariachi music and singing at the park, where organizers say refreshments and food will be available, including Mexican, Filipino and Pacific Island fare.

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The festivities in Carson Park, located at 21411 Orrick St., range from a menudo cook-off to a cumbia dance contest. Organizers say two outdoor stages will be set up for the performances, in order to minimize the wait between acts.

At 11 a.m., three judges--a priest, a Little League baseball coach and a community volunteer--will begin the celebrations by determining who made the best menudo , a Mexican tripe soup that is reputed to cure hangovers.

The Dolphin Park Carmelettes drill team is slated to lead off the entertainment at 11:30 a.m. At 12:30, a trio, Los Bohemios, will play a half-hour set, followed by the group Mariachi Mexicali at 1 p.m.

Singer Xavier Gonzalez is scheduled to take the stage at 1:30, followed by the Grupo Xochitlan Folklorico dancers at 2 p.m. and music from northern Mexico by a group called Los Tejanos de Durango (the Texans from Durango) at 2:30 p.m., among other presentations.

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The final event scheduled is a cumbia dance contest at 5:15, which will be judged by a panel of City Council members and community volunteers. The band Los Cuadros will provide the music, and a compact disc player will go to the winner, organizers say.

In Hawthorne, American Legion Post 314, situated at 14124 Prairie Ave., is serving up homemade Mexican dinners and live mariachi music from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Saturday. Admission will be $6.

American Legion Post 187 in Gardena, located at Gardena Boulevard and Normandie Avenue, is featuring a potluck dinner from 7 to 8 p.m. and dance music by the group Country Plus. There is no charge for admission.


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