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State Politics Also on Parade

With Gov. Davis on hand, a Mexican Independence Day event in East L.A. has distinctly American undercurrents.

September 08, 2003|Richard Fausset | Times Staff Writer

For 54 years, East Los Angeles' Mexican Independence Day parade has been a celebration of the moment when parish priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla issued his famous call to arms in that country's formative political event nearly 200 years ago: "Mexicanos, viva Mexico!"

Yet like many public happenings of late, this year's procession of charros, beauty queens and mariachis was influenced by a distinctly American political event: the California gubernatorial recall effort.

And so it was that Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn found himself atop a double-decker bus on Cesar E. Chavez Avenue on Sunday, accompanied by his embattled governor, and shouting, "Viva Davis!" as the governor beamed and waved.

"Viva!" came a rather tepid response from the corner of Rowan Avenue.

If the crowd responded more with politesse than revolutionary zeal, that may be because Mexican Americans are not of one mind about the recall.

That, at least, was the assertion of a number of parade-goers Sunday, despite the fact that Gov. Gray Davis was the only major recall figure at the event.

Organizers said they decided to exclude Republican gubernatorial candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger in part because of his past support for Proposition 187, which denied social and health services to illegal immigrants, said Leticia Villalobos-Galindo, who helped coordinate the parade.

"You can write that most of the people were cheering for Gray Davis, but a lot of people here don't like him," said Tito Delgado, a 47-year-old construction worker.

Others, such as Davis supporter Ed Valenzuela, said they didn't mind the governor's presence one bit.

And in a way, the looming specter of the recall made sense at a parade that offered a seamless mix of politics and party.

Amid the high school marching bands, Aztec goddesses and preteen lasso artists, local politicians cruised by in convertible sports cars. But it was the girls riding in beer-company-sponsored cars who garnered the more appreciative whistles.

The Asociacion de Charros Hacienda los Caballeros was among a number of groups of horsemen who carried the flags of both Mexico and the United States.

Preceding the float of parade Grand Marshal Pablo Montero, a popular crooner and soap star, was a group of older, weather-beaten men in cowboy hats who held a banner that read "Justice for Ex-Braceros," or temporary migrant farm workers. When they passed, the crowds near Belvedere Park gave them a sympathetic cheer.

Some in attendance Sunday seemed better versed in the politics of recall than the politics of Mexican independence, a complicated, 11-year military struggle traditionally celebrated Sept. 16, the date Hidalgo issued his famous battle call against the Spaniards in 1810.

"It means -- to tell you the truth, I dunno what it means," said Benny Torres, 18, when asked what Mexican Independence Day was about.

But Torres, who does not plan to vote in the Oct. 7 recall election, said he appreciated Gray Davis for signing a bill this month that gives illegal immigrants the right to a California driver's license.

"That's important, 'cause a lot of people need to get to work," he said.

The supporters who chanted for Davis as his bus passed by meant little to Alfonso Ostria, a 26-year-old undocumented worker. Ostria, who speaks little English, said he has been cleaning offices for three years in California but is hoping to return to Mexico City in a year or two with the money he has made.

"I haven't really been following [the recall]," he said.

What brought him out, he said, was a chance to cheer on Mexico -- "mi patria," "my homeland."

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