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From Mexico, With Pride: It's Independence Day

Tens of thousands in Santa Ana mark their home nation's 1810 call for freedom from Spain.

September 15, 2003|Claire Luna | Times Staff Writer

Painted on the cheeks of children, waving grandly from a balcony and planted in women's hairdos, Mexican flags were on display everywhere Sunday in Santa Ana as tens of thousands of people showed pride for their home country.

The Fiestas de las Americas parade, commemorating Mexican Independence Day, drew the largest crowd in its 15-year history, police said. For two hours, spectators cheered for their home states in Mexico as girls in traditional dress pranced among marching bands, government dignitaries and mariachi floats.

"It is so important that all Mexicans remember how their liberty was won," said Amado Corona, 41, a Santa Ana vending machine stocker. "The parade helps reaffirm our pride and our love for Mexico."

Parade organizer Bill Lomas attributed the large crowds to the city's burgeoning Latino population and the fact that the Mexican Independence Day festivities haven't included a parade for five years.

The parade was followed at 6:30 p.m. by El Grito, the holiday's traditional cheer and bell-ringing, symbolizing the call in 1810 to free Mexico from Spain. The 250-pound bronze bell employed for the ceremony had languished in the basement of a local restaurant for two years.

During the parade, strollers filled the sidewalks as people craned their necks for a look at the festivities. Spectators fanning themselves in the muggy air were packed 15 deep at the end of the 1.25-mile route near Broadway and 4th Street.

Some people yelled their approval at all 136 organizations involved in the parade, hooting and hollering for passing Bank of America employees with the same enthusiasm they had for the perky horses carrying charros, Mexican cowboys.

But it was the long white banners proclaiming the names of Mexico's 26 states, from Aguascalientes to Zacatecas, that drew the loudest cheers. Santa Ana College student Natalie Nava, 19, grew hoarse after yelling for Jalisco, her mother's birthplace.

To Nava, celebrating Mexican Independence Day is important to the community.

"This gets all the Mexican people together," she said. "Since it hasn't been here in a while, people are even happier than usual." Educating people that Independence Day is Sept. 16, not Cinco de Mayo, is also valuable, she said.

Corona, the vending machine stocker, was watching the parade with his brother-in-law Roberto Mundo, 38, and Mundo's two children. To shield his eyes from the sun, Corona shoved a piece of cardboard over his head and was reduced to wordless glee when passing Orange County Sheriff Mike Carona gave his headgear a thumbs up.

His power of speech returned when a dozen buxom women passed by on a Budweiser beer float. "Eres bella!" -- "You're beautiful!" -- he screamed happily when one threw him a poster. Corona and Mundo said they'd never seen such a large and enthusiastic crowd at the Santa Ana event.

"People used to be too scared of being deported to come to something as public as this," Mundo said, "but times have changed. Now people aren't scared to show their pride."

Mexicans deserve to celebrate their heritage, he said. "I feel so proud when I look out at all the people here," he said, thumping his chest near his heart. "I feel it right here."

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