Celebrating Mexican culture would seem to be a simple endeavor in Santa Ana, where 75% of the residents speak Spanish and most are of Mexican descent.
But on Mexican Independence Day -- a major holiday that is celebrated with fanfare and passion throughout Mexico -- the city is clearly divided.
Because of disagreements and entanglements among community leaders, Independence Day -- which began at 11 p.m. Thursday -- will be celebrated three times this year in Santa Ana.
One set of festivities began Thursday with a celebration at a community center. There’s also the weekend-long downtown street fair that starts Saturday. And then there’s the town’s annual Independence Day parade Sept. 25, nine days after the actual holiday.
The fractured celebration of the Mexican holiday is less a reflection of Santa Ana’s large immigrant population than it is about control of the downtown festival. “This shouldn’t be happening,” said County Supervisor Lou Correa, whose district includes Santa Ana.
For the second year in a row, efforts to combine the parade and street festival fell apart amid bickering over who should be in charge of the Independence Day festivities. In part, the difference came down to business: Should the events be moneymakers or simply community-sponsored celebrations?
The weekend festival on 4th Street attracts as many as 250,000 people, according to organizers, who have for the second year in a row sparred with organizers of the Independence Day parade, which features folkloric dancers, marching bands and traditional Mexican costumes.
Civic leaders say residents would be best served if the events were combined, or at least held at the same time, and preferably closer to the holiday.
“From a logistical point of view, one solid event is probably what everyone wants,” said Mark Lawrence, assistant to the city manager.
Correa said the city should be taking a leadership role in coordinating the celebration of Independence Day and consider holding it at a large venue -- such as the Orange County Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa -- rather than fight over it in downtown Santa Ana.
Mexican Independence Day celebrations begin every Sept. 15 at 11 p.m. in cities and villages throughout Mexico. In Mexico City, the president, following long-held custom, rings the liberty bell that Miguel Hidalgo rang to call the people when he summoned them to fight the Spanish in 1810.
After ringing the bell, the president shouts, “¡Mexicanos, Viva Mexico!” and the crowd repeats his words. State governors conduct similar ceremonies. The cry may include other acclamations, such as the one included by Benito Juarez, the country’s president from 1858-72, to honor all those who sacrificed to make Mexico free: “Long live the heroes of our independence!”
In Santa Ana, there was mixed reaction to last year’s local version of the event. The Mexican consul in Santa Ana, Luis Miguel Ortiz Haro, gave the traditional call to independence -- the grito -- but complained that the sound system was turned off when he shouted, “¡Viva Mexico!”
This year, the consul chose to move his Santa Ana celebration from the city’s downtown to a neighborhood community center, where he was to give the grito Thursday night. Today, he plans to give the grito in San Juan Capistrano. On Sunday, Councilman Jose Solorio is scheduled give the grito in downtown Santa Ana, capping the weekend festival.
And then, a week later, the Independence Day parade will be held.
Community leaders had hoped to finally combine the festivities this year, but the effort fizzled.
Ortiz Haro said festival coordinators had given too much control to All Access Entertainment, an event and promotion company that was contracted to run the festival.
If the parade were to be part of the festival, All Access stipulated, parade organizers could not raise money during the parade to defer their costs, about $80,000 in security and insurance. Parade organizers had hoped to rent booths to vendors along the parade route to raise money.
So the parade date was shifted so organizers could rent the booths, Ortiz Haro said.
Festival coordinators, meanwhile, were angered by the parade committee’s interest in having community members, and not All Access, run the festival.
Elsa Gomez agreed that it didn’t make sense to hold the parade so long after Independence Day.
“But the bottom line is that [the parade committee] wants to control the event, and we have been running it since 1984,” said Gomez, president of the Calle Cuatro of Santa Ana Assn., which represents downtown businesses. Members of the parade committee, she said, “have left a bad taste in our mouths.”
Ortiz Haro said downtown merchants seem to be more interested in profits than the cultural aspect of the event.
But for some, the multiple events are no big deal.
“The more activities the better,” Solorio said. “If anything, it’s too bad there are not more of these events throughout the year.”