Independent Spirit : Mexican Americans Turn Out to Celebrate Native Land’s Liberation from Colonial Rule


For Elvia Grajeda, even amid the banda music, carnival rides and throngs of celebrators, it was still a day for reflection. The 31-year-old bilingual schoolteacher was born and raised in the United States, but her parents hail from Mexico.

“I grew up with Mexican values, but lived within American society,” said the Fountain Valley resident, attending the Gran Fiesta de Independencia de Mexico at Centennial Regional Park Saturday afternoon. “I really have two cultures in me--and you have to learn to love both of them.”

But for Cecelia Gonzalez, the day commemorating Mexican independence from colonial rule, was simply a day for fun. The most pensive the 10-year-old became was in deciding whether to head for the bumper cars or the carousel first.


“I like the horses,” said the Anaheim youngster pointing to the twirling amusement ride.

“I don’t think she understands what today is about,” said mother Vera Gonzalez, 35. “But that’s OK.”

The three were part of thousands who turned out Saturday for the festival marking Mexico’s drive for independence from Spain in 1810. The three-day event, which began Friday night and concludes today, features music, food, dancing and amusement park rides, and is expected to attract about 75,000 people, organizers say.

The celebration was one of many similar events being held throughout Orange County this weekend. Festivals were also staged in San Juan Capistrano, Fountain Valley, Irvine and downtown Santa Ana.

The occasion provided the county’s large Hispanic population to demonstrate pride in their heritage. About 24% of Orange County is Hispanic, most of whom have roots in Mexico.

“It’s like our Fourth of July,” said Tustin resident Martin Melgarejo, 19, waving a Mexican flag at the center of the Centennial Park celebration Saturday. “I feel proud today. We are all like brothers.”

Under the shade of a tent, Arthur and Nancy Viramontes snacked on tacos purchased at a nearby food booth and took in the live music.


“We came here to celebrate. We love banda music,” said Arthur Viramontes, 71, who was raised in Anaheim but whose parents were born in Mexico. “We came here to eat too. I’m too old to get on the rides.”

In addition to fostering appreciation of Mexican ancestry, the Gran Fiesta also raises money for scholarships and youth projects, according to organizer Frank Garcia, a 51-year-old restaurant owner and community activist.

To support those projects, many businesses bought booth space at the Centennial Park festival. Businesses such as Western Union, McDonald’s, Sears and AT&T; set up stations in hopes of attracting new customers.

“There’s not too many things we can do to reach 80,000 Hispanic people,” said Scott Sheasby, a vice president with Bank of America. “That’s a lot of advertising.”

Bank of America, which has designated September as “Hispanic Appreciation Month,” was holding a drawing for a free trip to Mexico for people who opened an account or brought in a new account this weekend.

In the midst of a major overhaul of their routes and schedule, the Orange County Transportation Authority took the opportunity to inform people of changes slated to take place Oct. 1.


“The Hispanic rider is a major part of our audience,” said Renee Sparks, an OCTA project manager. “Even a minor change means a major change in lifestyle.”

More than anything though, the day offered families a chance to be together. Many picnicked in the shade, joined hands listening to music, or strolled the grounds playing a host of carnival games.

“We came here to enjoy the rides, hear Mexican music and eat all the great Mexican food,” said 33-year-old Rudy Curiel, who brought 20-year-old Juanita Rodriguez and three young children to the festival. “It’s a good feeling to know people in the United States care enough about Mexican independence to have this.”