Well, damas y caballeros, ladies and gentlemen, it's that time of year again, when downtown streets are closed to traffic from Hill to Spring and Olympic to 1st, and half a million people pour in for Fiesta Broadway, billed as the world's largest free Cinco de Mayo celebration. The celebration begins at 11 a.m. and ends at 6 p.m. Sunday.
As in the previous 10 years, this year's festival will feature live music, food vendors and children's activities. Six stages will offer 55 mini-concerts, by acts ranging from local roots rockers Los Lobos (this year's grand marshals) to salsa singer Eddie Santiago to Banda Machos to pop icon Veronica Castro (this year's queen) and her equally popular son, Cristian.
In contrast to past years, however, children will be the focus of this year's event. Fiesta Broadway falls on the date honored as Children's Day in many nations, including Mexico. Festival organizers, in conjunction with the National Latino Children's Institute, dedicate this year's festivities to the institute's campaign to establish a Children's Day holiday in the United States.
In this spirit, Fiesta Broadway for the first time crowned a junior grand marshal this year, 11-year-old mariachi sensation Tatiana Bolanos, known to her fans as La Chiquita Divina, or the Divine Little One.
The young South Gate singer will unleash her spectacular voice on the song "Vamos," dedicated to Children's Day. The song's poignant lyrics are reminders that most of the world's poor are children. She will perform it at the Fiesta kickoff event, at 11 a.m. on the McDonald's Stage at the corner of 4th and Spring streets.
Bolanos is a fitting choice for the role of junior grand marshal. A bright, funny and energetic kid, she has already recorded an album for Sony Discos. The album, "La Chiquita Divina," has shipped more than 50,000 copies, a certified gold record in the Latin market. Tatiana signed her first contract at age 6, making her the youngest artist ever to sign with Sony Discos.
She has appeared on many television programs, including the nationally popular Spanish-language variety show "Sabado Gigante." She has also been on English-language shows such as "The Rosie O'Donnell Show," "Maury Povich" and "Figure It Out," a Nickelodeon show dedicated to amazing kids.
In Mexico, Tatiana is known in the media as the new Lola Beltran, a comparison the young singer says awes and humbles her. "The first time they called me that, I couldn't believe it," Tatiana said in an interview at her grandmother's tidy, beautifully landscaped home in Downey, as relatives gathered for a Good Friday dinner.
As she spoke, the young singer's eyes sparkled with the healthy sort of confidence that comes from knowing you are talented, just as you know you have hands and feet.
According to Tatiana's mother, Inez Bolanos, Tatiana first showed interest in music when she was 9 months old and began rocking in time to music.
Tatiana listened to her mother recount the story, and seemed both proud of herself and a little embarrassed. She sighed in mock drama, pretending to throw a boa over one shoulder, and said in an affected British accent: "I can't explain it. It's a gift from God."
Mother Serves as Second Manager
Inez met Tatiana's father, Juan Jose, at a construction site in Los Angeles about 15 years ago. She was working in a lunch truck, and he was working at the site. Sparks flew over sandwiches, and, she says, they fell in love.
Inez was raised in Juarez, Mexico, and Juan Jose was raised in El Salvador. Both had sons from previous marriages, and had no idea their union would produce the strongest new voice in traditional Mexican music.
"No one in our family is musical," said Inez, who played music on the stereo for her daughter while she was pregnant, having read that babies can hear music in the womb. "She just amazes us."
Tatiana's father, who lists opera as among his favorite musical genres, owns JMD Carburetors in South Gate. Mom serves as Tatiana's second manager, driving her to appearances in the family's shiny new sport utility vehicle, and special-ordering her $1,000 custom-made charro outfits from a designer in Tijuana.
Mom also travels with Tatiana, who often has to take weeks of leave from her class at Our Lady of Soledad school to perform in such places as Colombia, Puerto Rico and Mexico. When she's not singing, she likes to ride her bike on the trails in Whittier Narrows or listen to music. Tatiana's next album, "Rancheras de Mis Idolos," is due out June 20.
Fiesta Broadway, Broadway District, downtown, 11 a.m. Sunday. Free. (310) 914-0015.