CANOGA PARK — Cinco de Mayo may only be a minor holiday in Mexico, but in the Latino community in the United States, it's a day of celebration and pride.
"They celebrate it more here," said Reyna Vela, who came to the San Fernando Valley from Nayarit, Mexico, three years ago. Vela was among the hundreds who gathered at the Guadalupe Community Center in Canoga Park for a day of folklorico dance, mariachi music, food, games and pinatas.
The mood at the party on Sunday was definitely festive.
"Sometimes we feel like outcasts, but not when you see all these people celebrating a Mexican holiday," Vela said.
Indeed, many non-Latinos were enjoying the festivities.
"In my opinion, our neighborhood is one and we celebrate to share in each other's heritage," said Marlene Naumann, a public health nurse and member of the committee of residents, business people and law enforcement officials who have organized the Cinco de Mayo party at the center for eight years.
Cinco de Mayo celebrates the victory of outnumbered Mexican troops over French fighters on May 5, 1867, in the village of Puebla.
In Mexico, the far more important holiday is Independence Day on Sept. 16, marking the day in 1810 when the country gained its independence from Spanish rule. Ironically, that day passes in the Mexican-American community with little notice.
At the Cinco de Mayo party at the Guadalupe center, special emphasis was given to children's activities.
"I like it because it focuses on the kids. It gives them a sense of unity," said Jose Manjarez, 19, a Mission College student. "It's something good for the kids that live in a bad neighborhood."
Santiago Diaz, a Columbus Middle School sixth-grader, agreed. "It helps Chicanos learn about their culture," Santiago said.
Another celebration was held Sunday at San Fernando High School, where the practice football field was the site of performances and other events. Among the entertainers were an all-girl mariachi band, the Aztec Dancers troupe and Ernie Valens, cousin of Ritchie Valens, the San Fernando resident whose recording of "La Bamba" became a rock 'n' roll hit shortly before he died in an airplane crash.
As in Canoga Park, Mexican pride was in the air.
"Even though some people think Mexicans are a low form of life, we can still do great things like beating the French," said Libertad Ayala, a 16-year-old student at the high school. "It wasn't just a war. It was peasants beating a well-trained army."