They marched solemnly on stage outside Los Angeles City Hall Tuesday evening, facing a sea of red, white and green Mexican flags. The crowd fell silent as the 20 young men, clad in military fatigues, raised their drums and trumpets to play the Mexican national anthem.
As they have for nearly a decade, the Tijuana Military Band had traveled to Los Angeles to help Angelenos commemorate Mexican Independence Day.
"We've been coming to this event for about 10 years," said Alejandro Mariscal, a drummer in the Tijuana band. "It's important to us to represent Mexico here."
The evening celebration marked the 182nd anniversary of the struggle that began Mexico's war for independence from Spain.
Sept. 15 is the night when a bell is rung at 11 p.m. in Los Angeles--an hour earlier than the traditional midnight in Mexico City--to mark the start of Independence Day. Mexico's Consul General in Los Angeles then raises El Grito, the cry for freedom, on the steps of City Hall. The grito was first yelled by Father Manuel Hidalgo y Costilla to peasants in the central Mexican town of Dolores in 1810.
Although Mexican forces did not defeat the Spanish until 1821, Mexicans see the battle cry as a symbol of independence.
"Viva Mexico!" yelled Iris Hernandez, 4, who then hid behind her red embroidered sombrero. She was one of hundreds of children who attended the family event.
Unlike Cinco de Mayo, Sept. 16 is widely celebrated in Mexico but receives less attention north of the border. Some Mexicans note that Cinco de Mayo festivities in the United States have incorrectly led many to think that May 5 is Independence Day. It actually commemorates the Mexican victory at the battle of Puebla in 1862.
The downtown ceremony Tuesday was sponsored by the city of Los Angeles, the Mexican Civic-Patriotic Committee and KMEX-TV, which brought in several Latino bands to entertain a crowd authorities estimated at 4,000.
"It's emotional for me to be here because I'm not used to being away from Mexico during the holiday," said Consul General Fausto Zapata Loredo, who has held the post for only two weeks.
Zapata said he feels "a solidarity with the Mexican community here."
Earlier in the day, city workers closed off a section of Spring Street in front of City Hall to prepare for the event, igniting tempers among commuters and snarling downtown rush hour traffic.
"Unfortunately, we know it upset some people, but it's a good event," said Claire Bartels, special events coordinator for the city Department of General Services.
In previous years, the celebration was held on weekends, so it "didn't impact as many people," she said.
Independence Day festivities got under way last weekend in East Los Angeles with a parade featuring Olympic boxer Oscar De La Hoya as grand marshal. Other celebrations are scheduled in Santa Ana, Huntington Park and other cities next weekend.
Guatemalans, Salvadorans, Hondurans, Nicaraguans and Costa Ricans celebrated their independence days in a combined celebration at MacArthur Park on Sunday.