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Something to Shout About -- ‘El Grito’

Times Staff Writer

Toddlers and teens wore red, white and green headbands. Several people carried placards with pro-immigrant messages. Cantinas put drinks on special, and some customers let out nostalgic wails.

And, for what is believed to be the first time, a mayor of Mexican descent rang the Los Angeles’ “grito” bell.

On Thursday night, Mexicans throughout the world gave the traditional “El Grito” yell, marking the eve of Independence Day and the unofficial start of weeks of fiestas patrias, or patriotic festivities, honoring independence holidays in several Latin American countries.

At City Hall, Mexico’s consul general in Los Angeles, Ruben Beltran, led the yell, which honors the 1810 call of Father Miguel Hidalgo that sparked the war for Mexican independence from Spain. The grito actually is a series of calls and responses, a growing chorus of “Que Vivas” honoring fathers of the republic that crescendos in “Que Viva Mexico!”

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Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo and City Council members Tony Cardenas, Ed Reyes, Jan Perry and Alex Padilla collectively yanked on a rope to ring a large, worn bell while thousands cheered and waved flags along Spring Street.

Many in the crowd carried posters with the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe on one side and a demand that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger give driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants on the other. State Sen. Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles), sponsor of the license bill that the governor has vowed to veto, wandered through the crowd greeting people and posing for pictures.

In Huntington Park, several in a crowd of about 10,000 at Salt Lake Park said they were disappointed that Mexican presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador had canceled his scheduled visit at the behest of Mexican electoral authorities, who said it could violate campaign rules. The former mayor of Mexico City would have been the first announced candidate to visit the U.S. before the election next year, the first in which Mexican nationals living abroad can vote.

Still, it was a time to celebrate, especially for residents of a county that is home to 4.6 million Latinos. Mariachi bands played and Beltran performed the “grito” a second time. After a fireworks display, ash rained on the crowd.

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“You ever been to the Zocalo?” asked David Correa, 38, a carpenter from South Gate, referring to the main square in Mexico City where on Sept. 15 as many as 200,000 people gather to ring in the holiday. “It’s different there because you are with your people, and the president of Mexico, and all the food and music. But this is nice, too.”

Yet the contradictions inherent in experiencing Mexican cultural life north of the border also were on display.

In Mexico, street vendors freely hawk all manner of on-the-go Mexican cuisine. But on the streets surrounding City Hall on Thursday, plainclothes police officers and health inspectors handed out citations to unlicensed vendors selling cotton candy, patriotic trinkets, bacon-wrapped hot dogs, bags of fried pork rinds and Salvadoran pupusas. The sight of private downtown security patrol vehicles caused vendors to scurry away or abandon their wares in trashcans.

“We take what we can get,” said Griselda de la Rosa, 50, a reveler who came to East Los Angeles from Puebla, Mexico, in 1964. “Yes, I miss it. You miss where you are born.... But I live here now. When I am over there, I miss Los Angeles.”

At the Gold Room, a cantina-style bar in Echo Park, the Mexican Independence Day mood was more muted. Margaritas were advertised at $2. The flags of Honduras, Guatemala, the U.S. and Mexico hung near the bar. The Spanish-language Televisa network flashed images of Independence Day celebrations in New York, London, Rome, Peru and cities across Mexico.

None of the patrons seemed to notice that midnight was approaching -- the real time for the “grito” -- except for Efren Sanchez, 27, a native of the town of Tequila in Jalisco state.

“It’s been all week. I’m a hard-core Mexican, 100% Jalisco,” said Sanchez, who wore a blue bandanna on his head

Sanchez’s song came on the juke: “Miraron Llorar a un Hombre” (“They Saw a Man Cry”) by Mexican mariachi king Vicente Fernandez.

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Sanchez let out a plaintive, patriotic howl -- his own “grito” -- and returned to his stool.


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