For many Latinos, this day in history is as significant as the Fourth of July and is similar to what St. Patrick's Day is for the Irish--a celebration of heritage.
And as Orange County residents Saturday began enjoying the weekend Diez y Seis de Septiembre (16th of September) fiestas, public officials said it was not just a commemoration of Mexico's Independence Day but also recognition of the county's growing Latino community.
"We need these kinds of things to celebrate our cultural diversity," Westminster Mayor Charles V. Smith said, munching on a taco at the Abrazar Senior Center's first Diez y Seis de Septiembre festival.
Ironically, while this day is more historically significant than Cinco de Mayo (which commemorates a famous battle in Mexico's history), the Mexican Independence Day celebrations do not have a longstanding tradition in Orange County.
The oldest--and until this year, the only major--Diez y Seis celebration in Orange County began six years ago in Santa Ana.
And again this year, Santa Ana played host to most of the Mexican holiday events held in the county, including a two-day fiesta at Centennial Regional Park, which ends today. A parade down Main Street is scheduled to be held today at noon, while a \o7 grito--\f7 a re-enactment of events on this date in 1810--was held Saturday evening. The \o7 grito \f7 commemorates the call for independence made by a rebellious priest, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, who urged fellow citizens to revolt against nearly three centuries of Spanish colonial rule.
Even for those not born in Mexico, the history has become part of the heritage of people of Mexican descent, officials said.
"And that's significant because Santa Ana has now become the county's largest city, and it is the city with the largest majority of Hispanics," said Orange County Supervisor Gaddi H. Vasquez, who will ride in today's parade. "It's really a celebration of Orange County's growing diversity."
Santa Ana Councilman Miguel A. Pulido Jr. said the holiday demonstrates the "economic, social and cultural coexistence of Hispanics in Orange County with people from other backgrounds."
That diversity was displayed at the Santa Ana fiesta, where the food booths included chicken corn dogs, egg rolls and chow mein, as well as \o7 carne adobada \f7 and Mexican pizzas called \o7 quetzapiza.\f7
Among those listening to the \o7 conjunto \f7 band playing Mexican ballads and \o7 cumbias \f7 at Centennial Regional Park was Paula Zequieda, who moved to Santa Ana from Acapulco just last year. This fiesta did not come close to the extensive festivities she enjoyed in Mexico, but it at least allowed her to be with her people.
"This is different," she said, "but there are many of us (Mexican citizens) living here."
In Westminster, Cuban native Olidia Lamar was among dozens of citizens sitting under canopies and listening to mariachi music.
The day of celebration, she said, should be significant not just for Mexican descendants but for all Latinos.
"I understand that if we are united, we will be strong," she said.
And the festival was not just for Latinos.
Ida Ambrose of Anaheim and Laura Moore of Santa Ana said they did not know what was being celebrated.
"It's a fiesta, that's all I know," Moore said as she and Ambrose shouted out requests for the mariachis to play the "lambada."
The Westminster center's executive director, Gloria McDonough, said the celebration also represented a different kind of independence--the freedom of Spanish-speaking citizens to seek needed social services.
The center's first annual Diez y Seis festivities were designed to raise money for a new dental clinic and to draw newly arrived immigrants to the center that has expanded beyond its original mission to serve senior citizens, McDonough said.
"I want them (Spanish-speaking residents) to understand this is not a government agency. We are not going to ask them any questions that are going to embarrass them in any way."
Even if the event does not raise enough money to complete the dental clinic, McDonough said, the festival would be a success if new residents learn they have rights in Orange County.