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Utah Latinos celebrate 'El Grito'

Published September 16, 2012 11:38 pm

Festival • Mexican culture and Latino unity are on display in Salt Lake City.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Thanks to the savvy marketing efforts of Mexican beer companies, everyone knows the holiday of Cinco de Mayo.

But for many in Utah's Latino community, and certainly inside Mexico itself, the May 5, 1862 triumph of Mexican militia forces over Napoleon III's French troops pales next to El Grito de la Independencia, the "Cry of Independence."

That's when, 52 years earlier in 1810, Roman Catholic priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla called his Guanajuato congregation together at his church in Dolores Hidalgo to shout a cry of revolt against Spanish colonial oppression .

Hidalgo's exact words are still debated, but every version includes "Death to bad government!" in his rallying cry. So, too, is his passionate, thrice-repeated cry of "¡Viva México!" or "Long Live Mexico!"

Mexico's president repeats those historic words, along with a recitation of Mexican patriots who helped win the nation's independence, from Mexico City's National Palace 11 p.m. every Sept. 15. The nation continues celebration's into Sept. 16, Mexico's official independence day.

Celebrations aside, the two-day event is also a time of reflection on the past and planning for the future in Utah's Latino community. Centro Civico Mexicano has celebrated "El Grito," as it's known in short-hand, every year since its 1939 founding in Salt Lake City. Festivities start Sept. 15, culminating in a live-stream broadcast of President Enrique Pena Nieto from the National Palace, followed by more food, live music and a car show the following day.

Both Cinco de Mayo and El Grito are symbolic of struggle for equality and justice in the face of oppression said Frank Cordova, president of Centro Civico. El Grito, with its explicit declaration of identity and autonomy, is more so, however.

Cordova grew up in Colorado, Utah and Idaho picking fruit and vegetables during summers before serving in the U.S. Army at the age of 17, then attending the University of Utah to study political science and psychology. His older brother wrote stories on police brutality and worker exploitation for New Mexico's El Grito de Norte, a newspaper that incorporated the name of Mexican independence in its very title.

This year's El Grito marks the 37th he's helped organize, and every celebration is a chance to assess how far Utah's Latino community has progressed.

"I remember in 1969 there were just 15 Latino students at the University of Utah," Cordova said. "Today we have eight Latinos running for political office."

Huge jugs of agua de piña, watermelon sandia, and cinnamon-flavored horchata graced a food booth outside the center as set-up commenced for other celebrations. Standing under a festival tent, Megan Jolley, who teaches Spanish at Lehi's Renaissance Academy charter school, said she was looking forward to the El Grito as a simple celebration of Mexican culture.

"I'm a gringa, but it's important to me," said Jolley, 26. "I'm a Latina at heart."

Saturday and Sunday celebrations at Centro Civico will also incorporate Guatemala's independence day, which falls on the same date. LDS missionaries will help lead celebrations in the Guatemalan dialect of "quiché," Miss Guatamala Utah will be crowned, as will "La Niña Moja Blanca," a junior version of the same title.

"I'm one-half Guatemalan, one-half American, but my heart belongs to Mexico," said BiBi Escoto, Centro Civico's media and events director.

Brochures for state political candidates lined tables at the center's east end. Also lending the event a palpable political air was the display sale for T-shirts proclaiming, "I Could Be Illegal," a direct reference to immigration issues.

Justin Kramer, a 28-year-old gardener living in Salt Lake City, said he wanted to volunteer for the event because of the celebration's significance in the struggle for freedom and justice.

"It's integral to our own [United States] culture, regardless of whatever walls or boundaries we put up," Kramer said. "The ways in which we integrate ourselves with one another is crucial toward how we solve larger problems."

Some attendees had the current contentious state of Mexican politics on their minds in the anticipated cry of "¡Viva México!" from President Felipe Calderón. Mexico's Federal Electoral Tribunal declared Nieto president-elect by 3 million votes in a contested July 1 election against Democratic Revolutionary Party candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. Nieto, who will take office Dec. 1, belongs to Mexico's long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, seen by many as prone to fraud and corruption.

Victor Puertas, a 35-year-old Salt Lake City shipping worker from Lima, Peru, said he celebrates El Grito as a historic reminder of the sacrifices made by people in the past for a better future. He said he was not enthusiastic about the thought of Nieto taking the reins of Mexico to offer the 2013 shout celebrating El Grito.

"It [El Grito] is the shout of righteousness," Puertas said. "Of course it bothers me that Nieto and the PRI are back in power, but I still celebrate El Grito because of what it represents for the Mexican people."

bfulton@sltrib.com

Twitter:@Artsalt

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El Grito de la Independencia celebration

When • Continues Sunday, Sept. 16, 1 p.m.-8 p.m.

Where • Centro Civico Mexicano, 155 S. 600 West, Salt Lake City

Info • Admission free, with donations appreciated. Call 801-359-9316 or visit http://www.centrocivicomexicano.org for more information.