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Cause for Celebration : Thousands Try a Taste of Mexico at Independence Day Fiesta in Santa Ana


SANTA ANA — For a couple seconds, Gustavo Narro listened for the rebel yell.

Still nothing--just the roar of the crowd enjoying tiny Mexican flags and huge sombreros, chile rellenos and carne asada Sunday at the Fiestas Patrias de Independencia in downtown Santa Ana.

"I think somebody might do it," he said hopefully.

Narro, 40, was waiting for someone to give the traditional whoop, celebrating Mexico's independence day. On Sept. 16, 1810, priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla set off Mexico's War of Independence from Spain in the town of Dolores. His rallying speech, Grito de Dolores, or Cry of Dolores, is still reenacted as part of the annual independence celebration.

"It's just like the Fourth of July," said Narro, a Santa Ana resident. "People are together. It makes you remember what happened in the past. You tend to forget what happens when you're in another country."

On Sunday, organizers said they expected about 100,000 people at the free independence festival. The event included carnival games and entertainment from groups including Grupo Tetha and Bandoleros. Also, nonprofit groups sponsored 74 booths, distributing information on free mammograms, physicals and child safety, said Bob Leavitt, treasurer of the Downtown Santa Ana Business Assn., which organized the celebration.

Part of the festival's aim was to introduce people to downtown Santa Ana, Leavitt said.

"People think in Santa Ana you have gangs and various [bad] things," Leavitt said. "In downtown Santa Ana, we haven't had any incidents in many years. . . . We're trying to get the other cultures, Anglo or whatever, to come down."

Leticia Bautista, 10, said she felt "great" that her culture was being celebrated. In school, she said, the teachers talked about the Fourth of July but never the independence day of Mexico.

"There are a lot of people from Mexico [here], and it's their independence," she said.

Alfredo Garcia, 11, ate churros and checked out booths selling plantains, mangos and tortas (cakes).

He said he hoped all Americans--not just those of Mexican heritage--would celebrate the day "to learn other things and to be friends with the Mexican people and learn about speaking Spanish."

(Orange County's 2.4 million residents include 556,957 Latinos, according to U.S. census figures.)

At the bandstand, Eleanor Garibay, 48, listened to ranchera music with her mother and granddaughter. Garibay, a Mexican American, said she was happy to see such a big celebration.

"We have our Fourth of July," she said, "but nothing like this. Not like this."

Garibay said she came to the festival to soak up the culture.

"I'm proud of it," she said. "It's nice to come out and talk to people, talk different stuff about Mexico that I don't know."

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