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Festival Is Saved by Bell

Silenced for three years, bronze gift to Santa Ana will once again ring for Mexico's independence.

August 03, 2003|Jennifer Mena | Times Staff Writer

A 250-pound bell symbolizing the call to free Mexico from Spain in 1810 has been reclaimed from the basement of a downtown Santa Ana restaurant, resolving a yearlong local dispute over how to celebrate Mexico's Independence Day.

The bronze bell first appeared in 1991, a gift to Santa Ana's Latino community from the Mexican consul. It was intended as a centerpiece for the city's annual commemoration of Mexico's Sept. 16 holiday.

Local merchants decided in 2001 to shift the focus of the annual street fair to a broader-based Latino celebration, and the committee that had overseen the bell's use fell into disorganization. That year's street fair was canceled because of the terrorist attacks. In 2002, with no organization championing the bell's use, it languished in the basement of Luis Mendoza's restaurant, Rancho de Mendoza.

Mexican Consul Luis Miguel Ortiz Haro refused to participate in last September's celebration because it did not include a grito, the traditional cheer and bell-ringing to commemorate the holiday. "Without a grito, it would be an insult to the Mexican community," he said.

In February, Ortiz Haro created a committee to rescue the bell so it could be used at this year's event and displayed at the Santa Ana consulate.

"We are giving it to the consul so we know it can be used and so it can be displayed instead of being in a storage," said Sergio Velasquez, the owner of two local Spanish-language newspapers. "Everyone at the ceremony will hear it, and everyone who visits the consulate, maybe 300 or 400 people every day, will see it and feel honored that we have it."

Ortiz Haro accepted the bell at a small ceremony Thursday. "I did not ask for this," he said. "It's not being returned to me, but to the Mexican community."

He said the consulate will build a base for the bell and keep it on public display.

Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a priest, set off Mexico's war of independence from Spain by ringing a bell that summoned residents. He then inspired them with a rallying cry known as El Grito, which begins: "Mexicanos, que viva Mexico!" ("Mexicans, long live Mexico!") The Santa Ana bell is a replica of Hidalgo's.

This year's Fiestas de las Americas is scheduled Sept. 13 to 15. The grito will be at 6 p.m. Sept. 14, much to the delight of merchants such as Adolfo Lopez.

The bell-ringing grito "is folklore and it is a civic ceremony that means a lot to Mexicans," he said. "When it wasn't done, I was very bothered."

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