By Jeff Kronenfeld / NewsBreak Pinal County, AZ
(Eloy, AZ) More than two centuries after the Cry of Dolores signaled the beginning of Mexico’s War of Independence, Eloy’s annual celebration of that fateful day, the Fiestas Patrias, filled the town’s Central Park with music, laughter, and even a dinosaur’s roars.
The event’s strong attendance on both Friday and Saturday signaled a return to normalcy following the World Health Organization's announcement earlier in the week that deaths from COVID dropped to their lowest levels since March 2020.
The small but tight-knit community's celebration of Mexican Independence Day stretches back more than half a century, according to Gracey Lopez, president of the Corazon De Latinos Unidos, a grassroots organization currently running the event.
“The first celebration was held in the 1950s and was organized by the honorable Junta Patriotica, an organization made up of community volunteers,” Lopez said. “The celebration was not held for several years until 1978 when another honorable Junta Patriotica formed and rekindled the desire to continue. And then from there, it stopped, and that's when we, Corazon De Latino Unidos, took it over in 2003.”
Many forms of entertainment were available at this year’s event, including dance performances by Ballet Folklorico Del Sol and a parade on Saturday morning. Richard Rosales, Community Affairs Manager Southeast at Arizona Public Service, was the parade’s Grand Marshall.
Grupo Mala Influencia, Los Compas de Arizona, the Highway Outlaws, and other bands performed everything from traditional Sonoran music to rock. For younger attendees, there were pony rides, a petting zoo, a dinosaur show by Dino Crew Entertainment, and a pair of dancing robots.
A local actor and historic reenactor Gilberto Zaragoza posed for pictures with attendees in a Mexican revolutionary costume, which he made himself. Gilberto has appeared in many films, including "Jeronimo’s Revenge,” “Blood in Them Hills,” and “Gunfight at Silver Creek.”
For him, the festival was a chance to connect with and share his cultural and familial roots.
"My mom had a bunch of pictures in a trunk,” Gilberto said. “Right in front was a big old picture, and I asked her, ‘Who was that?’ What they were was soldiers dressed like me, kneeling down. The guys behind them we're standing up, and the guys behind them we're on horseback. And she goes, ‘That is my great-great uncle.’ So, when I saw that picture, from then on, I started thinking, ‘When I grow up, I want to be a cowboy.’”
The event hosted 62 booths this year, an increase from previous outings. Thirty of these were food vendors, who served up Hispanic dishes and refreshments like pupusas, tostilocos, and agua frescas, as well as other offerings like sushi, barbecue, and fried bread.
Other booths were occupied by local nonprofits and businesses seeking to spread the word about their products and services. For example, local cottonseed supplier Bayer-Deltapine distributed cotton-based first aid products, while The University of Arizona Cooperative Extension promoted its health, nutrition, and agricultural support programs.
Also present was South Arizona Legal Aid Inc. (SALA), which assists people in expunging low-level marijuana offenses from their criminal records. Though based out of Tucson, the group operates in nine counties across the state, including Pinal County.
“What expungement does is it seals their marijuana-related record on their criminal history record and from public access,” said Olympia Torres, an attorney for SALA. “I have a lot of pending petitions on behalf of individuals in almost every county. So, I write my own petitions. For those that want to represent themselves, I help them fill out a form petition that already exists, and I just provide them with information on the filing process and the post filing process.”
Frito-Lay North America, which has run a production facility in nearby Casa Grande since 1984, sponsored a booth that distributed free Frito-Lay products and a parade float featuring Chester Cheetah.
For Juan Gaviria, a site director for Frito-Lay, even the heat couldn’t put a damper on the festivities.
“It's actually a lot better than last year, and there are more people. It’s a little hotter, but that's ok," Gaviria said. "I'm just excited to be a part of the community again and to make sure that we get past all the COVID stuff that we've gone through for the last couple of years."