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VENTURA COUNTY FAIR : A Fiesta for Their Ears : Mexican Heritage Takes Spotlight, but Some Visitors Disappointed

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It was fiesta time, and they came by the thousands to hear the music of Mexico.

“I came just for the Mexican music,” said Fernando Hernandez of Ventura, who brought eight family members to the Ventura County Fair. “I don’t know who’s playing, but I have to be here. It’s part of our Mexican heritage.”

Hernandez was one of more than 17,000 visitors who came to hear Mexican music Sunday at the fair’s Fiesta Day, which usually draws more people than any other day of the 12-day event.

It’s a day when fair organizers tip their sombreros to Ventura’s Latino roots through music and tradition.

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The day began with mariachi musicians and the Ballet Folklorico dance troupe roving about in colorful costumes and culminated in a late-afternoon concert in the Grandstand Arena that featured several big names from across the border.

“It’s not an everyday thing for these bands to come to Ventura,” said Juan Ceja of Ventura. “It is a big day for us and for Mexican culture.”

Among the big names were Los Humildes, Ritmo Rojo and Modelo. Some of the bands played Banda, a type of Latin folk music for young people, others played Tex-Mex, Norteno and Cumbia, a kind of salsa.

Teen-agers like dancing the Quebradita to Banda music, said Mary King, an usher. “It’s kind of like break-dancing but with a Latino hold-your-hips-still movement,” King said. “It’s actually quite graceful and precise.”

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Banda music is the hot sound these days, she said.

“Every generation has their cultural thing and this is theirs,” King said. “In my day, it was swing.”

There were plenty of people in the dusty arena that had never heard of Banda but liked it anyway.

“It’s got a different sound,” said Julie Mourey of Camarillo. “But it has a wonderful beat. I wasn’t sure if I’d like it, but I do.”

For some, the music transcended language barriers.

“I can’t understand the words, but I like the music,” said Sue Wallace of Oak View.

That’s what it is all about, said Letty Magana of Oxnard.

“The music is here for everyone to enjoy,” Magana said. “If people aren’t familiar with Banda, they can come here to check it out.”

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For Cruz Dominguez, Fiesta Day was for teaching his children about their heritage.

“This is my culture, where I come from,” Dominguez said. “That’s why I brought my family here all the way from Canyon Country. It’s my responsibility to teach them where they come from.”

Sandra Corrales, 18, of San Fernando, marveled at the Mexican atmosphere.

“It feels like a family party, like a wedding,” Corrales said. “Music always makes a party.”

But not everyone was content with the amount of music or Latin-oriented programs. To many, the fiesta was more of a wet blanket.

“There was a lot more Mexican music last year,” said Richard Rodriguez as he strolled through the fair with his family. “It’s actually a bit disappointing.”

“It’s more American than Latin,” Teresa Cardenaz said. “There are hardly any Latino things here.”

Many said they couldn’t find the mariachi musicians and dancers anywhere.

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“It doesn’t seem like they went out of their way to really make this a Latino day,” said Mike Garcia of Camarillo. “If I hadn’t already known it was Fiesta Day, I wouldn’t have guessed it. Maybe they should have a Mexican rodeo or something.”

Nick Justiniano also said the fiesta fell kind of flat, but the 18-year-old was just glad to see lots of familiar faces, he said.

“It’s nice to have all my people come out in peace and get along,” Justiniano said. “And it’s important to show our culture to other people to help them understand it.”

* SCHEDULE: Today’s events. B7

* ANIMALS: Pigs are the main draw at Uncle Leo’s Barn. B7


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