You celebrated Cinco de Mayo and probably thought you were participating in Mexico's equivalent to the Fourth of July. But Cinco de Mayo celebrates Mexico's fight against the French -- which, as the Germans will tell you, is no big deal. The real Mexican Independence Day is September 16, the day in 1810 on which Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla rang the church bell in the town of Dolores and called upon his mostly Indian and mestizo church members to revolt against the Spanish rulers. The beginning of the revolution is celebrated each year on both sides of the border with Fiestas Patrias events that leave Cinco de Mayo cold.
Get into the spirit of the holiday with a traditional grito ceremony. In Mexico, the president of the republic and governors across the country look out from balconies and over plazas on 16 de septiembre and repeat "El Grito de Dolores," the rallying cry of Father Hidalgo. Performed locally by the Mexican General Consul at 8 p.m. on Saturday, September 15, the ceremony is one of the highlights of Phoenix's weekend-long fiesta at Civic Plaza, 255 East Adams. "It's really emotional," says Elvira Ortiz, of the nonprofit Alma de la Gente. "Everyone starts waving their Mexican flags all over the place." El castillo, a fireworks show, follows at 10 p.m.
Across town, Chandler's annual mariachi festival brings the emotion of mariachi and swirling grace of ballet folklórico to the East Valley. M.R. Diaz, president of the Chandler Coalition for Civil and Human Rights, the event's sponsor, recommends keeping your eye on performer Armando Gonzalez. The talented singer from Guadalajara, who has shared the stage with Vicente Fernandez and others, is working at the Chandler dairy while raising money to produce a CD of his own.
For more information on Phoenix's Fiestas Patrias celebration, call 602-252-5331. Chandler's mariachi festival runs from 7 to 11 p.m. Saturday, September 15, at the Chandler Center for the Arts, 250 North Arizona Avenue in Chandler; call 480-782-2680 for information and tickets. A parade at 9:30 a.m. the same day kicks off the Miami fiesta, which is centered on Sullivan Street. The Chihuahua race starts at 3:30 p.m. See calendar listings for other events throughout the Valley -- there is something para todos.
The don't-miss event outside the Valley is Miami's Fiesta de las Fiestas, translated as the "granddaddy of all fiestas" by City Councilman David Portillo. It's got all the usual fun, from an old-fashioned car show to salsa- and menudo-making contests. But what you won't find elsewhere is the annual Chihuahua race, which features about 20 of the tiny dogs. "They get about a foot from the finish line, they don't want to go any farther," says Portillo. "Sometimes [the owners] tempt them with candy or a little piece of meat. They're at the end begging, 'Come on, chiquito.'"
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Take a moment this weekend to give the traditional shout: "Viva México!"