Thousands Joyfully Commemorate 'El Grito' : Festival: Santa Ana's downtown is packed and chaotic as crowd celebrates Mexican independence.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Traffic was snarled along Main Street, but an estimated 20,000 people Saturday were happily caught in the chaos, playing games, shopping and promenading through the festival celebrating Mexico's independence.

"What a beautiful day to have a celebration," said Miguel Antonio De La Cruz, 81, of Anaheim, who arrived in the United States 40 years ago from Zacatecas, Mexico. "It's wonderful to live."

The festival, called Las Fiestas Patrias de la Calle Cuatro, marks the 183rd anniversary of El dieciseis de Septiembre . It is the most important national patriotic holiday in Mexico and commemorates "El Grito," the cry for freedom raised in Dolores, Mexico, on Sept. 16, 1810.

"In Mexico there is no greater day," De La Cruz said. "I've celebrated many of them."

Along a one-mile stretch, smoke from barbecued meats filled the air as shops, restaurants and travel agencies did brisk business.

One taco stand had a sign that read "Que Viva Mexico! y Que Viva sus Tacos!" which means "Long Live Mexico and Long Live Its Tacos!" It bode well for the dozens of makeshift taco stands found in the closed-off area.

Many of the men and women wore quebradita- style clothes and hats now fashionable and popular in Mexico and the United States. Banda music blared from the speakers of record shops and sometimes conflicted with the boom of hip-hop music played by a local radio station, but no one seemed to mind.

"I listen to both music," said Dina Torres, 14, a student at El Dorado High School in Placentia. "You can't have a celebration without music."

Most of the children at the event huddled near the carnival rides and held yellow and pink balloons in their hands.

Ramon Flores, 11, who attends elementary school in Santa Ana, said he learned about El dieciseis de Septiembre from his teacher. "It's when Father Hidalgo made 'El Grito,' " he said.

Another youngster, Mary Helen Lendejas, 13, from Santa Ana, said: "Even though we are not in Mexico it's still our culture."

The festival ends tonight at 9, and a parade is being held on Main Street at 1 p.m beginning at Washington Avenue and ending on 3rd Street.

At 6 p.m., the traditional "El Grito" will be given on the main stage at 4th and Sycamore streets.

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