The melodic thump of a drum and the piercing howls of conch shells filled the playground at Heritage Elementary School on Friday as Aztec dancers kicked off the school's celebration of Mexican Independence Day.
The festivities, which included dancing, tamales and a soccer tournament, were meant to go beyond simply marking the anniversary of Mexico's independence from Spain in 1810. They were a way to give the community a closer look at the traditions of Mexico's people and culture, said Francisco Trujillo, site coordinator for Community Partnership for Families.
"We're trying to build bridges between the different ethnic groups. We want to make sure people understand the true nature of Mexican people," rather than base their knowledge on stereotypes, Trujillo said.
Born in Mexico and now living in Lodi, Maria Baker said she enjoyed the chance to celebrate the anniversary of her native country's freedom.
"(It's) magnificent," she said in Spanish. "It's a celebration of independence, liberty."
About 1,000 people were expected to attend the four-hour event, which was organized by Community Partnership for Families, Heritage and MOLE, the Spanish acronym for Organized Movement of Enthusiastic Latinos, which holds events that showcase Hispanic culture.
Many attendees kept their eyes on a small stage as Aztec dancers in multi-colored feathered headdresses performed ancient dances. Others stopped at an assortment of booths set up by local community groups, including El Concilio, BC Ministerio en Español and the Lodi Public Library.
In the early afternoon, students from Lawrence Elementary School waited for the Folklorico dances that would take place later in the day. The boys were clad in white shirts, straw hats and red bandanas and the girls wore white shirts with traditional colorful dresses.
Heritage Principal Maria Cervantez said the third-annual celebration is important for the school, whose student population is 80 percent Latino.
"For many of us, our roots are in Mexico, so this is a day we value," Cervantez said.
Contact reporter Jake Armstrong at firstname.lastname@example.org.