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Santa Ana's Downtown Throng Digs Party for All the Americas

Celebrations: The three-day annual cultural festival is big on family fare, ranging from entertainment to politics.


Families had a day in the sun Saturday in downtown Santa Ana, where a three-day annual festival gave tens of thousands of Latinos and others a taste of their familiar roots and other cultural samplings.

Wafting through the crowd were the aromas of tacos, carnitas and roasted corn on the cob. Musical offerings featured such instruments as the Peruvian pan flute.

"It reminds me of a big fair in Mexico," said Altis Ramos, 25, who left that country three years ago to settle in Tustin. "It's difficult to go back there frequently, so this is kind of like a piece of home."

That's the whole idea of Fiestas de las Americas, the Latin American street festival concluding today.

Now in its 14th year, the fiesta began as a celebration of Mexican Independence Day on Sept. 16th. But last year the focus was broadened to celebrate the cultures and independence days of all Latin American nations, many of which also fall in September, and to honor the United States and victims of last year's Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Covering about 12 square blocks, bordered roughly by 1st and 5th streets to the north and south, and French Street and Broadway to the east and west, the festival was expected to attract more people than ever over its three-day run. Judging from the packed attendance Saturday afternoon, that's probably about what it will do, said Mitchell Liday, a hired organizer.

"It's good weather, a good crowd and the focus is on families," he said.

Indeed, many families strolled 4th Street and other thoroughfares Saturday afternoon, stopping at the festival's dozens of booths. Among the offerings were free advice from lawyers and financial experts, spinning-wheel games with prizes, vendors selling sombreros and baseball caps, political booths sporting such signs as, "Here's Where You Change to Republican," and free samples of Spam.

The entertainment on the huge stage at the end of one street featured such acts as traditional Latin American dancers and singers and Majica Juventud, a children's dance troupe from Bell Gardens whose 80 members deliver Latino interpretations from many countries and in a variety of styles, including rap.

"I think it's fun to hang out, walk around, get food, do a little shopping and celebrate Independence Day," said Vanessa Brito, 14, of Irvine. "It's an important day."

For her mom, Vycki Brito, 32, who came to Orange County 20 years ago from her native Mexico, the experience was more profound. "I love it," she said. "I used to come here as a teenager, and now I bring my kids. It's great to pass on our heritage and keep them in touch. I want them to know where their parents are from."

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