CULTURAL CELEBRATIONS : Cinco de Mayo festivities will fill the streets with the sights and sounds of Mexico.

Strolling mariachi musicians and festive folklorico dancers will fill the streets of the South Bay area this weekend, leading the way to Cinco de Mayo, one of Mexico’s most colorful and celebrated holidays.

El Cinco de Mayo, or the Fifth of May, is a national holiday in Mexico and is widely thought of as a day to celebrate Mexican independence. In fact, Mexican Independence Day occurs in September and Cinco de Mayo marks the day in 1862 when Mexican General Ignacio Zaragoza led a battalion of soldiers to victory over a much larger French invading force.

Today the anniversary of that military victory on Cinco de Mayo is observed as a day to celebrate Mexican culture and independence with parades, fiestas, and traditional music, dance and food. Below is a sample of Cinco de Mayo related events:

* Dolores Huerta, founding member of the United Farm Workers, will serve as grand marshal for Gardena’s seventh annual Cinco de Mayo Parade beginning at 11 a.m. Saturday. More than 60 groups, from drill teams to beauty queens, will march in the parade. The route begins at the corner of New Hampshire Avenue and Gardena Boulevard, travels west to Normandie Avenue and then north to Recreation Park at 158th and Normandie. A community fiesta featuring game booths, traditional food and entertainment ranging from folklorico dance to rap music will be held from about noon until 4 p.m. Information: (310) 217-9539.


* In Carson, carnival rides and games, live music from mariachi bands and popular Latino musicians, and arts and crafts displays will provide entertainment in Carson Park from noon to 6 p.m. Sunday. Festival-goers can pack a picnic or visit food booths; 21411 S. Orrick Ave.; information: (310) 830-4925.

* At the Wilmington Recreation Center, the annual community fiesta is scheduled for May 8 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mariachi music and ballet folklorico will lend traditional flavor while baseball and basketball tournaments will keep the family athletes occupied. Children from the recreation center’s tap, ballet, folklorico and karate classes will demonstrate their newly learned skills in a special holiday performance; 325 Neptune Ave.; information (310) 548-7645.

* Inglewood will celebrate Latino culture with the Annual Hispanic Fiesta on May 16, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in Rogers Park, 400 West Beach Ave. The festivities include a soccer tournament and activities for children such as free carnival rides, use of a wading pool, and a chance to break a pinata. Free cotton candy and popcorn. Information: (310) 412-5504.

* The Pacific Islander community will also celebrate its diverse culture this weekend and mark the International Year of Indigenous People with the Fourth Annual Pacific Islander Festival on Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on the lake shore of Harbor Regional Park.

The daylong event will celebrate the Samoan, Hawaiian, Tongan, Maori, Chamorro/Guamania, Marshallese, Tahitian and Cook Island communities with a lineup of entertainment that includes music, dance and drama. Arts, crafts and food from the islands will be sold. Replicas of island villages will be set up along the lake to present artifact exhibits, hands-on workshops and demonstrations of traditional practices such as storytelling and weaving. The park is at 25820 Vermont Ave. in Harbor City; information (213) 485-2437 or (310) 926-6707.

Admission is free and open to the public.