This weekend in downtown Oxnard, Las Fiestas Patrias, a commemoration of Mexico's independence from European rule, will be celebrated with dance, poetry, food and drama.
The county's Hispanic Chamber of Commerce has planned a carnival and dance performances Saturday and Sunday. The theatrical part of the commemoration will take place Friday and Monday evenings and should provide Ventura County kids, whether or not they're of Mexican heritage, an opportunity to find out what really happened at the birth of the nation, now nearly 100 million strong, to the south of the U.S.
Javier Gomez, a history teacher at Frank Intermediate School in Oxnard and director of the theatrical presentation "El Grito" ("The Cry"), describes the show as a series of tableaux. Performed by volunteer actors ranging in age from 7 to 65, the play will dramatize events in September 1810 in the town of Dolores, Mexico.
That was when a priest, Father Miguel Hidalgo, launched the Mexican War of Independence by declaiming El Grito de Dolores (the cry of Dolores), rallying native-born Mexicans to the cause of freedom from European rule.
Hidalgo helped them plan an uprising. The reenactment of his ringing of the church bell and declaring that it was time to revolt is the central moment of the annual Mexican independence celebration.
A year later the Spanish executed Hidalgo, but the revolution he started could not be stopped. After a decade of war, Mexicans forced Spain to withdraw from their country in 1821.
On Friday and Monday at 7 p.m., Gomez will give a "pre-play" explanation in English and Spanish of the events that will be dramatized on the open-air stage at the corner of 5th and A streets. In addition to the historical scenes, which will be performed in Spanish, with English narration, there will be folk dancing and poetry readings on the stage. The program will run until 10 p.m.
The eve of El Grito, on Monday, will be celebrated in the same manner in Oxnard as in Mexico City. "It is timed to the moment when the President of Mexico walks out onto the balcony of the National Palace, holds the Mexican flag over his head and begins to wave it, simultaneously proclaiming Mexico's independence as millions of Mexicans cheer in unison "Viva Mexico!" Gomez says.
1997 Fiesta Las Patrias, Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., A Street between 4th and 6th streets, Oxnard, includes carnival rides, food booths and a ballet folklorico. "El Grito de Dolores" will be performed at 7 p.m. Friday and Monday at 5th and A streets; also at noon Sunday at the Mexican Fiesta at Libbey Bowl in Ojai. Free. (805) 486-0266 or (805) 240-2070.