A dancer from the Ballet Folkórico Mexico Lindo performs at Lions Park last month. The Nampa-based dance troupe will perform at the Mexican Independence Day event at Four Rivers Cultural Center on Sept. 15. (The Enterprise/Isabella Garcia)

ONTARIO – It started with a Catholic priest and the ringing of a church bell in September 1810.

The priest, Miguel Hidalgo, unleashed a war for independence that Mexicans all over the world celebrate today. To commemorate the occasion, Four Rivers Cultural Center will host its annual Mexican Independence Day event Sunday, Sept. 15.

From 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. the center will feature mariachi, traditional Mexican dancing, food, piñatas and games.

The free event kicked off seven years ago, when a group of local Latinos were brainstorming events that would showcase Latino culture in the valley.

“There’s such a big Mexican population here and we thought it would be neat to have a celebration for their independence and get away from people thinking that it’s Cinco de Mayo,” said Mimi Rodriguez, recruiter for the Migrant Education Program at the Ontario School District.

Rodriguez is one of the organizers who helped bring the event to life. She explained that Cinco de Mayo marks only one battle in Mexico’s history – a successful fight against the French Army during the second French intervention, decades after Mexico gained its independence from Spain.

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Independence Day is arguably the most important national holiday in Mexico.

“I don’t think it’s unlike the Fourth of July for Americans,” said Matt Stringer, executive director of Four Rivers Cultural Center and one of the event organizers.

The actual holiday is Sept. 16, but it’s a two-day celebration as the evening prior is when festivities kick off in the country.

The dates symbolize the beginning of the war unleashed by Hidalgo when he gave his “grito” or call to arms, calling on Mexicans to take their country back from the Spanish.

That “grito” or “cry” and the speech that folklore says Hidalgo gave that day are reenacted each year by the Mexican president from the balcony of the National Palace. He even rings the same bell Hidalgo is said to have rung.

The grito is televised internationally. Rodriguez said she likes to stay up and watch it every year. Officials from the Mexican Consulate in Boise will give the traditional grito speech at Four Rivers Sunday.

Stringer said the event goes beyond being a cultural experience. Local social services agencies also set up booths each year.

“The idea is that children can avail themselves of arts and crafts and piñatas and other things while their parents are learning about social services,” Stringer said. 

Resources for mental health, education and housing assistance will be on hand at the event.

The Oregon Law Center, the state Department of Human Services, Community in Action and Catholic Charities of Oregon and Idaho are among the organizations that will be there Sunday.

“You’ll get some folks that really get solid assistance if somebody’s landlord won’t fix their window or come get the door back on their hinges,” Stringer said. “We love that aspect of it.”

News tip? Contact reporter Yadira Lopez at yadira@malheurenterprise.com or 541-473-3377.

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