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Orange County

3-Day Festival Fills Santa Ana Streets With the Spirit of Independencia

About 200,000 are expected to get a taste of diversity at Fiestas de Las America.

September 13, 2003|David Haldane | Times Staff Writer

Santa Ana on Friday kicked off its annual three-day celebration of diversity, the Fiestas de las Americas.

Street vendors sold tortas, carnitas and corn on the cob as families tapped their feet to live Mexican music.

Children begged their parents for tickets to myriad carnival rides.

And everywhere the spirit of Latin America pervaded as people spent an evening "back home."

"It reminds me of my country," said Yanelli Millan, 17, who was born in Mexico and lives in Tustin. "Maybe next year I'll go back for a visit."

Now in its 15th year, the fiesta -- which continues through Sunday -- began as a celebration of Mexican Independence Day on Sept. 16. Two years ago 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 victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"People see it as a cultural event and a celebration of their heritage," said Teresa Saldivar, chairwoman of the fiesta and vice president of the Downtown Santa Ana Business Assn., which sponsors it.

Sprawled along six city blocks of 4th Street, from Broadway to French Street, the celebration will culminate in an Independence Day Parade at 11 a.m. Sunday, followed at 6:30 p.m. by El Grito, the holiday's traditional rallying cry: "Mexicanos, que viva Mexico." ("Mexicans, long live Mexico.")

"We just want them to have a good time," Saldivar said of festival-goers, expected to number more than 200,000. "I hope they walk away with full tummies after tasting the foods, being entertained and letting their children have a great time."

At least some of that seemed to happen Friday night.

"We should do more things like this," said Javier Benitez, 36, an artist born in Mexico who has lived in Garden Grove for 18 years. He was attending the festival with his wife and three kids.

"It helps us remember the way we grew up. I came to America to find my dream, and I'm still working on it, but I don't want my daughters to forget where I came from."

Martin Macias, 38, also brought his two young daughters to give them a taste of his culture. "We want them to know our tradition," he said.

However, his 8-year-old, Leslie, didn't care for the food. "Oh well," Macias said with a shrug, "she's 100% American."

Linda Carroll was born in Mexico, immigrated to the U.S. in 1980 and ended up marrying her U.S.-born English teacher. For most of the last 23 years, she said, the couple and their three children have lived on other continents.

Now back in Orange County, she came to the festival Friday, she said, to relive the rhythms of her culture.

"I'm very happy to be back listening to Mexican music," she said. "I went for months without even speaking Spanish. Now I just cry when I hear that music."

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