Moctezuma, the last Aztec emperor of Mexico, was trying to make a point about Mexican history to about 150 elementary school youngsters Friday. He asked them, "What day is it tomorrow?"
"Saturday," a bright-eyed little girl piped up.
Several youngsters sitting around the blonde respondent whispered, "No it isn't." They knew what the old Aztec was driving at.
"It's Mexican Independence Day," they said.
The colorfully costumed Moctezuma--in the person of 30-year-old actor Fabian Gregory Cordova--smiled approvingly and concluded his history lesson. It began with the children at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in the Hollywood Hills and was but one of several events Friday as the Southland began its celebration of El 16 de Septiembre, Mexico's most important day.
Priest Exhorts Resistance
It was on that date in 1810 that a rebellious priest, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, urged the townspeople of Dolores in the central Mexican state of Guanajuato to take up arms in revolt against nearly three centuries of Spanish colonial rule.
Although it took 11 years to win its independence, Mexico regards the day of the priest's cry for freedom--El Grito--as its true day of independence.
There was the usual round of official ceremonies Friday to mark the holiday.
Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alatorre and Mario Nunez, Mexico's deputy consul general in Los Angeles, placed wreaths at a bronze statue of Hidalgo y Costilla at El Parque de Mexico in Lincoln Heights. There was a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Olvera Street, the city's birthplace, to kick off a weekend of festivities and Mayor Tom Bradley officiated over a City Hall program Friday night.
But nothing seemed as important to Memo Aguilar and two friends as their informal holiday observance late Friday morning under a big tree--which they quickly dubbed the Mexican Independence Tree--at Belvedere Park in East Los Angeles.
Salute Under a Tree
"None of this contrived Cinco de Mayo stuff for us," growled Aguilar, a tree trimmer by trade whose parents were from the Mexican state of Chihuahua. "We decided to meet under this tree to celebrate. It's shady, no?"
His two friends munching on \o7 burritos de carnitas, \f7 Pablo Guzman and Armando Gonzales, nodded in agreement.
"We are here to salute the priest Hidalgo, salute Mexico, salute our parents, who were born in Mexico," began Aguilar.
". . . And to stay under this tree," interjected Guzman, reminding everyone that the temperature was approaching 100 degrees.
Mexico's independence was not the only one observed in informal gatherings on Friday.
In Los Angeles' Pico-Union District, for example, a group of 20 Salvadorans met in the dank apartment of Guillermo Montez to celebrate the 168th anniversary of El Salvador's freedom from Spain.
It is one of five Central American countries--the others being Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua--that share Sept. 15 as an independence day.
"In L.A., it's Mexico this and Mexico that," Montez told the hollering audience. "But today, we'll allow the Mexicans to be honorary \o7 Salvadorenos . . . que viva El Salvador!"
\f7 SEPT. 16 ACTIVITIES\o7 A full weekend of activities will take place in the Los Angeles area to celebrate Mexican Independence Day, which marks the anniversary of Sept. 16, 1810. That was the day Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla of the city of Dolores roused his congregation to take up arms against the Spanish monarchy. The liberation of Mexico followed 11 years later.
Following is a listing of some events:
9 a.m. About 4,100 Latinos will be sworn in as U.S. citizens at East Los Angeles College's Weingart Stadium, 1301 Brooklyn Ave., Monterey Park. The naturalization ceremony is free and open to the public.
All day. A cultural and commercial fair will be held at Olvera Plaza downtown with entertainment and vendors from Mexico displaying their products.
1:30 p.m. Mexican Independence Day Parade in East Los Angeles will feature floats, dignitaries and high school bands.
1 to 9:30 p.m. Annual fiesta, Irwindale City Hall. Festivities include food booths, Mexican dance performances, mariachi bands, games and children's rides. Free.
5 to 9:30 p.m. Fiesta, Our Lady of Guadalupe in El Monte, 11359 Coffield Ave. Food and games, mariachi bands. Free.
Noon to 11 p.m. Fiesta, St. Hilary's Church in Pico Rivera, 5465 Citronell Ave. Proceeds from food, games and drinks will help pay for repairing damage to the church roof from the October, 1987, earthquake. Admission is free.
Noon to 8 p.m. Las Festivas Patrias, the county's annual festival, will be held at Belvedere County Park's Alberto Diaz Plaza on Mednik Avenue near Brooklyn Avenue in East Los Angeles. The celebration includes music by Menudo and local bands, children's shows, food and crafts. Free.
All day. Fiesta, Our Lady of Guadalupe in El Monte, 11359 Coffield Ave. Food and games, mariachi bands. Sunday's events will include music by the church youth group and crowning of the fiesta queen.