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Celebration opens its second year at the Fairgrounds

Food, fun, and festivity will return to the valley this weekend when the Fiesta Celebration opens its second year at the Hood River County Fairgrounds.

The two-day event will celebrate freedom — Mexican Independence Day, which actually falls on Sept. 16 — with a carnival, food booths, games, music, and more. And it’s free: there is no charge for admission and plenty of free parking is available.

Last year, the Fiesta Celebration drew more than 2,000 people in its single day of existence, despite a lack of advance publicity and mostly word-of-mouth. This year organizers have geared up for a bigger, better event, expanding it to two days and patterning it after similar celebrations in Mexico.

“Word has spread fast — there has been a lot of communication and a lot of response from businesses in the Portland area who want to participate as well,” said organizer David Kirkwood of the Pine Grove/Odell United Methodist Church.

Mexican Independence Day is not to be confused with Cinco de Mayo, also often called Mexico’s Independence Day. Sept. 16, 1810, was the day Mexico declared its independence from Spain, whereas Cinco de Mayo celebrates a battle won over the occupying French army about 50 years later. Of the two, 16 de Septiembre is the bigger celebration in Mexico.

This year, in addition to the food booths, mariachis and folk dancers that made last year’s event such a success, the Fiesta has grown to include carnival rides, a car show, and soccer tournament. The pinatas and face painting, carnitas and other crowd-pleasers will still be there, but in greater numbers.

Three bands have signed on for this year’s celebration: last year’s headliner, Los Diamantes del Norte; Los Temerosos, a mariachi band; and La Fantasia, a dance band.

The gate will open at noon on Saturday and stay open until 10 p.m.; on Sunday, the hours will be from noon to 6 p.m.

The event is sponsored by the Pine Grove/Odell United Methodist Church, Mid Valley Market, and a host of other generous supporters, most notably Hood River Chrysler Dodge Jeep and Columbia River Bank, whose sponsorship organizer Kirkwood seemed especially grateful for.

“Support has been overwhelming,” Kirkwood said. “(The event) has grown significantly in size and acceptance, not just in the Hispanic community but the whole community,” he said.

Not only is the event a fun one, but it also serves to connect nonprofit agencies with those who might be in need of their services. Last year there were several informational booths providing literature of particular interest to Hispanics, and the same will be true this year. The Fiesta Celebration got its start as an outreach, and despite its growth that’s what it remains.

“No one’s making any money on this event (sponsor-wise),” Kirkwood said. “It’s just a chance to bring the community together and have some fun.”

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