Given that 40 percent of Stanislaus County's population is of Hispanic or Latino descent, you might think Mexican independence day would be pretty widely observed in these parts.
After all, it marks that nation's 200th anniversary, and people in this country love to hold onto their respective culture and heritage, passing them down to the generations born here and sharing with those from other backgrounds and ethnicities.
That's why Modesto hosts an all-encompassing International Festival. That's why thousands of people gather for the various Portuguese festas, such as the one in Gustine last weekend. It's why the Greek Orthodox Church will have its annual festival this weekend, showing off its gorgeous church, traditional dances and foods.
It's why people of Scandinavian descent re-create their traditions and retell their sagas each year in Turlock.
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African-Americans celebrate Juneteenth. Likewise, there are Italian clubs, Assyrian, Asian, East Indian, Pacific Islander and Asian groups, all keeping their cultures and traditions alive so far away from their native lands.
So it only makes sense that Mexican independence day would be celebrated in grand fashion here, right?
It's unlikely. There was a lightly publicized event Wednesday night at El Rematito, the flea market on Crows Landing Road.
Also, Jesus Alberto Gonzalez of Salida, an immigration reform activist and member of the Federacion Nacional de Jalisco Mexican-American coalition, was honored Wednesday during ceremonies — in San Jose. And he will give the traditional "grito," or independence call, Sunday — in Oakland.
Mexico's consul general did the same Wednesday — at the Capitol building in Sacramento.
So, why is such a venerated holiday so low-profile among Latinos here in Stanislaus County?
First, historical significance gave way to a good party long ago. Latinos in the United States celebrate Cinco de Mayo — the victory by an impromptu small-town militia over French troops in 1862 — with far more vigor than they show for Mexican independence day.
Beer companies, restaurants and bar owners in the United States embrace Cinco de Mayo as a moneymaker, which bothers some traditionalists. Cinco de Mayo isn't celebrated in Mexico. Yet, it's become the Mexican version of St. Patrick's Day in the United States, relegating Mexican independence day to an afterthought among many Latinos here.
"The reason there isn't a big (independence day) celebration in Modesto is that nobody organized it," said Yamilet Valladolid, Modesto site supervisor for El Concilio (Council for the Spanish Speaking).
She said she was approached by the Mexican Consulate to organize a celebration here.
"But the consul general only called me about a month ago," she said. "There wasn't enough time to put it together."
Secondly, many people in Mexico are frustrated or disheartened by the state of their nation, according to news reports. They question why the government is spending millions upon millions of dollars on festivities at a time when the economy is horrible, drug wars and murders dominate the landscape and schools are in tremendous need of resources. So what should be a momentous occasion in Mexico looks to be relatively subdued, and that translates to apathy among Latinos in this country, as well.
Thirdly, it is an interesting time to be of Mexican heritage in the United States, with immigration reform and anti-immigration sentiment building and brought to the forefront by the controversial legislation recently passed in Arizona.
Consequently, some who might otherwise celebrate the Mexican bicentennial are staying under the radar this year.
"We are more hesitant to show our pride," said Griselda Rivera, a 22-year-old senior at California State University, Stanislaus, a Latina born and raised in the United States.
They also are more hesitant to travel to Mexico and back because of tighter border security, El Concilio's Valladolid said.
"Before, people came here searching for a better future knowing they'd eventually go back (to Mexico)," she said. "But now, if they go back, they might not be able to come back (to the United States). Even for a person who's documented, it's difficult to go back. You'll see people who'd normally go back to visit family (around Christmas) but who won't go back this year. They'll be staying here."
Jesus Alberto Gonzalez, the immigration reform activist from Salida, said the immigration debate creates tension for many people of Mexican heritage, including some Mexican-Americans.
"I've noticed not just anti- immigration (sentiments), but it's also anti-Mexican," he said through an interpreter. "I'm speaking for myself. I'm very proud of being Mexican and, yes, there is a phobia. Yes, there is an anti-Mexican wave. In no way do I send a message not to assimilate (into American culture). (But by celebrating their heritage) we are not doing something bad and it shouldn't be viewed that way. It's not a bad thing. The main focus is to be proud of the heritage and tradition."
Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2383.