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Mexico's Festive Call to Arms : Independence Day Celebrations Will Recall 'El Grito'

September 15, 1993|ALICIA DI RADO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA ANA — Banda music wails on a portable stereo, and more than a dozen third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students kick and side-step on the Franklin Elementary School auditorium stage.

The girls' black boots, studded with rhinestones, glisten. Their correas --long strips of fringed cloth tied to their belts--bear the names of Mexican home states like Guanajuato and Nayarit.

With a lot of giggles and a not-quite-in-unison stomp, the boys and girls end their version of la quebradita , a popular dance the class will perform for parents and friends on Thursday, Mexico's independence day.

Like Franklin, many schools have programs to teach children the meaning of the holiday and to instill cultural pride. Events will take place at several locations in the county to commemorate the 183rd anniversary of the call to independence in Mexico.

"This is a really important holiday for Mexicans," explained Alba Gonzalez, 10, who attends a class for students new to the country at Franklin. "We talk about our heroes and celebrate our independence."

For others, it's a day to visit relatives and eat asado --barbecued beef, said Ezequiel Martinez, Alba's classmate.

The anniversary commemorates the call to arms that led to Mexican independence from Spain. A bell is traditionally rung at midnight, Sept. 15, to start Independence Day celebrations. The ringing is followed by "El Grito," the cry for freedom.

The grito was first given by Father Manuel Hidalgo y Costilla to those in the central Mexican town of Dolores in 1810. Although Mexican forces did not defeat the Spanish until 1821, Mexicans see the battle cry as a symbol of independence.

"In Orange County, where close to 26% of the population is Latino, this is a matter that should not be forgotten, and it is a time to feel proud of one's heritage," said Zeke Hernandez, director of the state office of the League of United Latin American Citizens.

"Its meaning should be given to the youngsters whether they're born in Mexico or born here," Hernandez said.

Lorrie Lujan, a teacher at Franklin, said the students in her class and others are learning about the history of the Sept. 16 event, as well as taking pride in their culture by learning dances and songs.

"Sing from your heart!" Lujan told the children as they lined up on stage and practiced singing a ballad.

And the message of independence and freedom isn't lost on young adults, many of whom are rediscovering their roots.

"When I was brought up, I was brought up Mexican," said Eliseo Camacho, a senior at Cal State Fullerton who heads the MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan) student group. The holiday "reaffirms the pride in the culture you have and makes you want to research your history."

Camacho said that Sept. 16 gets much less attention in the United States than Cinco de Mayo (May 5 celebration). "I haven't heard any hoopla about el dieciseis de Septiembre --at Cinco de Mayo they have specials on beer, but the significance of Independence Day is lost."

The holiday, he said, is a reminder for young Mexican-Americans about the importance of leadership. "We lack a leader, and the holiday shows what one individual was able to do by standing up before the people."

Cultural awareness also concerns Patricia Lopez, a community activist and parent who started San Clemente High School's first Mexican Independence Day activities this year.

Lopez, who is part of the school's Ethnic Cultural Relations Advisory Committee, invited a mariachi to perform at the school on Thursday. Students from school clubs will also travel from class to class and tell other students about Mexican heroes such as Benito Juarez, Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata.

"There are a lot of heroes to work with," Lopez said, laughing. "At least we'll be able to introduce them."

Mexican Consul Felipe Soria Ayusa, who will lead El Grito at Santa Ana's celebration on 4th Street at 7 p.m. Sunday, said the holiday is a reminder of Mexico's struggles. "This is the time when as Mexicans, we remember what we learned in school about patriotism," Soria said.

The celebrations, which will occur shortly before and after Thursday , commemorate independence not only for Mexico, but for several other Latin American nations. Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Chile also celebrate their liberation this month.

"There's a large segment of individuals from other countries (beside Mexico) in Orange County," Hernandez said. For example, there are "close to 8,000 Salvadorans here, and we ought to acknowledge these other countries."

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