The Untold Story of Santa Ana's Fiestas Patrias

While the Orange County Register and others published fawning dispatches on SanTana's annual Fiestas Patrias Mexican Independence Day festival and parade this past weekend, no one bothered to look into how it came to be that festival organizers moved the Fiestas from its traditional Fourth Street location to Flower Street between Civic Center Drive and Santa Ana Boulevard–or why the carnival rides, food booths and games on Fourth Street weren't acknowledged by civic boosters, Fiestas Patrias organizers, or Papi Pulido's people.

The answer is simple: the Fiestas Patrias has become another volley in the war to further remove Fourth Street from its historic Mexican roots and prep it for its Brave New Future. And those who wish such a scenario have an unlikely ally: new Mexican Consul Carlos Rodríguez y Quezada.

First, a bit of history about Fourth Street. The official Sunkist Memories story goes that downtown SanTana was downtown Orange County before the Mexicans came, before there came a need for a “renaissance” (more on the use of that word in the context of SanTana mañana), but that's a load. Lisbeth Haas' Conquests and Historical Identities in California, 1769-1936 illustrates the “Main Street divide” in downtown SanTana that went back as far as 1916–west of Main Street were the gabacho stores, east were the Mexican shops. This de facto segregation became more pronounced as the decades went along, to the point that “by the early 1930s, East Main Street had emerged as a well-defined Mexican commercial district.” Even then, the merchants would hold their Fiestas Patrias down Main Street, and the city didn't mind as long as the Mexicans went back to their barrios and shopping district by night's end.

You can still sense the Main Street divide in downtown.


Toward the east is mostly Mexican stores; on the west side is the Artists' Village, non-wabby restaurants and bars, and Starbucks. Tellingly, SanTana officials have been nibbling at East Fourth Street in the past couple of years, with the approval of lofts and other coming attractions I won't just yet spill. The Fourth Street merchants haven't been happy (and there are now quite a few vacancies on West Fourth Street of former Mexican businesses)–not with the hipsters so much as the city officials who long ignored them and now prefer “diversification” of an area that Mexicans largely kept vibrant for decades.

The lastest stickler in the past couple of years has been the Fiestas Patrias. Some loft dwellers last year were so upset with the thought of hundreds of thousands of Mexicans spilling onto Fourth Street (the east side) that they demanded hotel lodging for the duration of the Fiestas Patrias. It's a story told and told again with disgust by Chicano activists, but those NIMBYers' will was done. But it's not all whitey's fault: The Fourth Street merchants unfortunately can't seem to get along with each other, as well.

In swoops in Rodriguez y Quezada, a hugely unpopular consul who has already inspired multiple resignations and grumbles from longtime OC Mexican consulate workers (more on him some other time). Instead of working with the Fourth Street merchants, Rodriguez y Quezada simply stole all the mega-sponsors and the all-important parade and moved it far away from Fourth Street. His distaste for SanTana's Mexican history is such that Fourth Street isn't even listed in the official map for the Fiestas Patrias (click on the picture above), nor did the parade even come close. Even Shelton Street–which had nothing to do with the Fiestas Patrias or little to do with SanTana's civic identity–got included in the map. This despite the fact that the Fourth Street merchants held their own rival Fiestas Patrias, going so far as to invite Rodriguez y Quezada's predecessor and rival, Luis Miguel Ortiz Haro, to lead their grito, the traditional celebratory oration to mark Mexican Independence Day.

Crazy, no? Awesome story, yes? But the only newspaper that came close to reporting on this controversy was the Register's Spanish-language weekly, Excelsior–and even it merely hinted at the troubles, not bothering to dig. And what of the Weekly, ustedes may say? Those who live in glass houses, right? Ah, but who's to say we aren't? Stay tuned…

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