More than a Mexican Independence Day parade, it’s an East L.A. celebration of cultural pride

Marchers walk as Mexican flags fly
Marchers and Aztec dancers walk along Cesar Chavez Avenue as Mexican flags fly during the 67th annual Mexican Independence Day Parade in East Los Angeles.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

After a two-year pandemic hiatus, the traditional Mexican Independence Day Parade will resume Sunday in East Los Angeles with colorful floats, charros, dancers, musicians and special guests, including Dodgers pitching legend Fernando Valenzuela as the parade’s grand marshal.

Marking its 76th year, the parade organized by the Comite Mexicano Cívico Patriótico commemorates Mexico throwing off the shackles of the Spanish colonizers two centuries ago, while also disseminating the cultural customs of the region’s Mexican American community, both native-born and immigrant. The parade, which goes from 10 a.m. to noon, will be broadcast live on KABC-TV Channel 7.

“The East Los Angeles parade is a benchmark of our Mexicanness, patriotism and the love that those of us who live abroad have for our country,” said Francisco Moreno, president of the CMCP, who left his home state of Michoacán to settle in California in 1983. Although he has been a naturalized U.S. citizen since the early 1990s, he said he carries his homeland “in my heart.”

“We do it with the aim that the youngest really integrate and that the parade serves as part of their spiritual, patriotic growth and love for their parents and the country where they come from,” added the 62-year-old activist. “Let there be no doubt in your mind: We love the United States, but we also love our home country.”


In its formative years, the parade began at Placita Olvera and ended in Lincoln Park. In 1953, it was moved to East Los Angeles and started drawing the attention and attendance of celebrities like John Wayne and successive California governors, along with Mexican presidents and celebrities such as Anthony Quinn, Mario Moreno (Cantinflas), Lola Beltrán and José José.

Since 2011, the parade has followed a 1.2-mile stretch along Cesar Chavez Avenue to the west, starting from the corner of Mednick Avenue and ending at Record Avenue. Fifteen of Mexico’s states are represented with allegorical floats.

“These events reinforce our multiculturalism, because it is where we realize that we are not only Mexicans, but that we come from many countries, different social strata and many generations,” said Gloria Arjona, professor of literature at Caltech.

Mexico’s national holiday is a special occasion and a 25-year-old ritual for businesswoman Martha Jiménez. For the immigrant from Guadalajara, it’s an opportunity for instilling in her children and grandchildren an appreciation of their cultural heritage. The parade winds up in front of her business, Alisol Flower Store, on Cesar Chavez Avenue, where residents and other merchants customarily set up chairs and tents and share food.

“There is everything: pozole, sopes, enchiladas, tacos and tostadas,” said Jiménez, who with her two sons and two daughters also helps decorate the floats.

“We have to teach the culture to our children,” said Renato Jiménez, 38, who helps his mother. “If we don’t do it, the school doesn’t teach them.”

Everyone helps with the decorations, said Martha Jiménez, who this year plans to decorate three vehicles. “This is Mexico in two hours,” she said.

María Elena Serrano left Michoacán with her family in 1963, when she was 5, and settled in the Central Valley. As a teenager in the 1970s, she worked in the vineyards during summers. It was there, on a portable radio, that she heard the announcement about a contest to become “Miss Mexico of Los Angeles” and be crowned queen of the annual parade.

In 1980, Serrano was one of more than 40 contestants. To her surprise, she won.


“That’s how I met the [organizing] committee and then I continued there,” recalled Serrano, who in 2017 served as the parade committee’s first female president. She also has a unique perspective on cross-border relations: She’s one of the members of the Mexican Chamber of Deputies who represents the nation’s large expatriate community residing in the United States.

As is customary for Serrano, 64, who splits her time between her legislative duties in the Mexican capital and her home in Downey, she’ll be traveling from Mexico City to join this weekend’s festivities.

“I have seen how people get excited, shake the children’s hands, raise their flags and shout, ‘Long live Mexico!’ especially those who, due to their irregular immigration status, cannot leave, and this allows them to join the community,” she said.

According to the Pew Research Center, in 2017 there were 36.6 million people of Mexican descent living in the United States, an increase of 76% since 2000, while the number of those born in Mexico who now live in the U.S. rose from 8.7 million to 11.2 million. People of Mexican descent represent 62% of the 58.8 million Latinos living on U.S. soil.

Anti-Mexican discrimination persists across U.S. society, and clashes between pro- and anti-immigration factions have grown uglier in recent weeks. But Mexican Americans continue to make inroads.

“We are contributing to this country,” said Marcela Celorio, consul general of Mexico in Los Angeles. “If there are conservatives who may not agree, they are the smallest sector of American society, because all the time Mexicans are becoming more and more integrated.”

It is projected that Latinos will constitute 29% of the United States population by 2050, according to the Pew Research Center, a future reality that is disquieting for some Americans.

“That’s what makes them uncomfortable. You can’t reverse that,” said Armando Vásquez-Ramos, retired professor of Chicano studies at Cal State Long Beach and founder of the California-Mexico Studies Center. That’s why it is important that young people be given “knowledge of history, culture and what they represent today as a Latino community,” he added.

Gaspar Rivera-Salgado, professor of labor studies and director of the UCLA Center for Mexican Studies, said that Mexican cultural events function similarly to the celebrations of previous waves of European immigrants. German American Oktoberfests, Irish American St. Patrick’s Day parades and Italian American street processionals devoted to saints evoke ethnic and national heritages transported across oceans and replanted in North America.

“In white immigrants there is a sense of belonging, of following their roots,” Rivera-Salgado said.

“There is this myth of assimilation, the myth of the melting pot. I say it is a myth because that has never happened,” he continued. “It seems to me that the best way to navigate this multicultural society is to know where you are from, what your history is and, on that knowledge, to relate to other people.”