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Crowds enjoy Modesto Cinco de Mayo celebration

Sylvia Bernal comes to the Cinco de Mayo celebration at Modesto's Tuolumne River Regional Park every year.

She likes the music, the people, the sense of togetherness. The tostadas aren't bad either.

"It's nice to see the community come together like this," she said between bites. "We remember our culture and our heritage."

Bernal was part of a crowd of some 3,500 people expected at the event Sunday, which had everything from pony rides to booths with information on health care. Other Cinco de Mayo festivities on tap in the area: a performance Wednesday by Quetzalli de Veracruz, a folklorico touring company at the Gallo Center for the Arts and a Cinco de Mayo Blowout on Friday featuring Latin music, salsa and jazz.

Sunday's celebration fell the day after thousands gathered in south Modesto as part of a nationwide demonstration calling for federal immigration reforms and protesting a recent Arizona law they say targets Latinos for racial profiling.

But the event focused on family -- not policy. There were bounce houses and ice cream carts. Children waved Mexican flags.

"I like the jumpy slide," said 8-year-old Yamilet Madrigal, who attended the event with her mother and sisters, Lupita, 15, and Karina, 16.

"Things like this are important so our culture won't, like, fade away," Lupita said. "We need to keep it going."

Cinco de Mayo is often confused with Mexican Independence Day, but it actually marks a Mexican victory over the French during the Battle of Puebla in 1862.

The holiday isn't usually celebrated in Mexico, said Ricardo Cardenas of Ricky Ricardo Productions, which organized the event. But Latinos living in the United States often mark it with family parties, festivals and concerts.

Attendance at Modesto's annual celebration has decreased since the event began some 16 years ago.

Upward of 10,000 people attended in the past. But rainy days made for sparse crowds last year and the year before, Cardenas said.

Sunday's weather was fair, but Cardenas said the current economy forced organizers to scale back the festivities because of a lack of sponsors.

Still, Sunday's festival included a children's area, information booths, live music and a beer garden. People sat on the grass, vying for spots in the shade. They listened to Mexican music and ate hamburgers and hot dogs, chicharones (curly strips of fried pig skin) and tacos de cabeza (the meat is from the head of a cow), among other traditional foods.

Most were aware of the protests over the Arizona law but declined to talk politics.

Juana Ochoa, 22, put it this way: "This is a day to have fun."

Bee staff writer Kerry McCray can be reached at kmccray@modbee.com or 578-2358.

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