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A Proud Time : Latino Group Sees Hispanic Heritage Month as Opportunity to Raise Awareness of Culture

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Trinidad Cuevas was walking home from college Friday morning when he spotted the word “Hispanic” on a banner outside the Old County Courthouse.

As he stopped and listened to the proclamations being read outside the courthouse, Cuevas suddenly became part of the kickoff ceremony for Hispanic Heritage Month in Orange County.

“I saw the sign, and it said Hispanic something, and I’m Hispanic, so I guess it interested me,” said Cuevas, 18, who applauded the event. “There’s a lot of us, and they should pay attention to us.”

Bringing greater recognition to Orange County Latinos was exactly the purpose behind Friday’s event, sponsored by a group of local residents known as the Orange County Hispanic Heritage Committee.

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The committee worked for more than a year before launching Friday’s event, which included the unveiling of a photo exhibit on Latino culture, which will travel to various county locations over the next month. The committee also has published a 47-page booklet on Latino history, and will have a booth at this weekend’s Fiestas Patrias street fair to help people trace their ancestry.

“A lot of people didn’t even know this month existed,” said heritage committee co-chair Lydia Cano. “We want people to look back and reflect on our heritage.”

Of Orange County’s 2.5 million residents, approximately 600,000 are Latino.

“We are proud of being Americans,” said Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove), who spoke at Friday’s ceremony, “and we are also proud of our culture.”

The U.S. Congress declared Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 as national Hispanic Heritage Month in 1988, and Cano said Friday’s celebration was the first attempt to better coordinate local observances.

The Santa Ana Unified School District, where 90% of the students are Latino, already has planned a month’s worth of celebrations that began Friday with a community fair and performances by Franklin Elementary School students. Aztec dancers, school carnivals and even presentations by parents will be part of events over the next month in the school district.

And as Sanchez and other officials made their pronouncements outside the courthouse Friday, the three-day Fiestas Patrias street fair just blocks away was about to begin on 4th Street between Main and French streets. The festival hours are 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. today and Sunday. A carnival also will be held this weekend at nearby 3rd and Bush streets.

Tuesday also marks Mexican Independence Day, and over a half-dozen other Central and South American countries also will celebrate their independence days this month.

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Heritage committee member Edward T. Grijalva, who can trace his ancestry to one of the county’s first settlers, said his forefather would appreciate the county’s diversity today.

“As I look over my shoulders and see what has happened,” said Grijalva, “I think he would be pretty proud.”


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