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Orange County

In Anaheim, Cinco de Mayo Is a Family Affair

Thirty-two years later, the annual fiesta is still mainly the work of relatives of its founder.

May 05, 2003|David Reyes | Times Staff Writer

What began as an annual soccer game between Mexican and Mexican-American teams more than three decades ago has evolved into one of Orange County's oldest Cinco de Mayo celebrations, with more than 100,000 spectators expected during the festival's four days.

Despite its growth, the celebration at La Palma Park in Anaheim has remained a family affair, said Linda G. Prieto, daughter of the late Joel Guerena, the supervisor of a trash hauling firm who co-founded the event 32 years ago. Prieto helps run festivities through the nonprofit Anaheim Cinco de Mayo Fiesta.

"When I was a teenager, my dad started me off in 'logistics' with the organization," Prieto, 39, said Sunday, the festival's final day. "It meant I'm the one who got to pick up trash. Well, after two decades of involvement, I still do logistics every now and then."

Her entire family gets involved, working hundreds of volunteer hours on the festival 11 months of the year. The city provides police, cleanup crews, electricity and other assistance.

Prieto has divided the tasks among the family. Her husband, Jesus, organizes the soccer tournament. Daughter Christina handles the Cinco de Mayo queen contest and Marco Becerra, her son-in-law, and her son, Jesse, 15, are in charge of the concession booths. A sister is a vice president of the foundation and a brother helps organize the event.

The Cinco de Mayo celebration, which marks Mexico's 1862 victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla, grew from an annual soccer match between the team Guerena coached, Anaheim Cruz Azul, and a team with the Cruz Azul name from Hidalgo, Mexico, one of that country's most powerful clubs. That led to an annual tournament and then Cinco de Mayo festivities.

When the celebration moved from Anaheim High School to La Palma Park in the early 1970s, attendance leaped. The celebration grew from families and small community groups selling food and refreshments to amusement park rides and a stage for folkloric groups and mariachis.

This year, 20 to 30 government officials from Hidalgo came along. They are provided lodging and taken to tourist attractions, such as Disneyland and Universal Studios, Prieto said.

The Cinco de Mayo festival has become one of the biggest events of the year for some Orange County residents.

"They save all year long and take their families to it," said Anaheim Police Sgt. Kasey Geary. "This is big. Even I remember coming here as a kid."

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