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Cinco de Mayo Festival Attracts Diverse Ethnic Groups

The 5th of May, known in Spanish as Cinco de Mayo, is a major festival among Mexican Americans in the Southwestern United States. Mike O'Sullivan reports from the historical Mexican district of downtown Los Angeles, the city's many ethnic groups observe the celebration.

To the sounds of Latin pop and traditional mariachis, people snack on Mexican tacos, Asian teriyaki chicken or American hot dogs. But amid the noisy celebration, few, especially young people, know exactly what Cinco de Mayo celebrates.

No, in fact, Mexican Independence Day is September 16. Cinco de Mayo marks a Mexican victory over French troops in 1862, although no one knows why the holiday is more important here than it is in Mexico.

For 17-year-old Stephanie, a Mexican American, Cinco de Mayo is a time for fun and a chance to meet new friends. "I get to see different people, a whole bunch of different cultures, and celebrate our culture as well," she says.

There are Cinco de Mayo celebrations in many parts of Los Angeles, but the largest is in a downtown section that dates back to the city's beginnings. It is called Olvera Street.

Kody Smith is general manager of El Pueblo de Los Angeles historical monument, which includes Olvera street and its surrounding neighborhood. "El Pueblo historical monument is the birthplace of Los Angeles," he says. "It was settled over 221 years ago by 44 individuals that came here under the King of Spain's instructions and started the city of Los Angeles."

There are Latinos, Asians and African Americans among the thousands gathered here, all enjoying the celebration of Mexican culture. Mark Conte runs the company that brought 100 vending booths with food and souvenirs. "The crowd is very mixed," he says. "And it's a beautiful afternoon. It's only going to get warmer. It's going to be beautiful down here."

Manuel Piche is an immigrant from El Salvador who has observed Cinco de Mayo only since he moved to Los Angeles. "It's a good holiday to keep the Latin community together," he says.

Vendor Lourdes Vega sells Mexican flags and T-shirts with Mexican themes, such as images of Aztecs, the native people conquered by the Spanish. "Our kids are always into our Mexican American themes," she says. "And they love this country [the United States] but they also keep our culture."

Ms. Vega says that others, not just Mexican Americans, buy her T-shirts.

Just a few blocks from Olvera Street is Los Angeles Chinatown, now home to many immigrants from Southeast Asia. Kory Smith of El Pueblo Historical Monument says other ethnic groups are in this neighborhood. "This is one of the most diverse places in all of the city of Los Angeles, if not the most diverse place," he says. "Next year we'll have the opening of the Chinese American Museum here, right before Cinco de Mayo, and we'll have the Italian Hall opening up about this time next year."

And Kory Smith says next year, there will be an even bigger celebration of Cinco de Mayo.