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L.A. hosts nation's biggest Cinco de Mayo party

By
JOHN CANALIS

LOS ANGELES -- An estimated 600,000 people descended upon the streets of downtown Sunday for the nation's biggest Cinco de Mayo festival and a celebration of Latin culture.

The third annual 'L.A. Fiesta Broadway' featured international Latin recording stars on nine stages. Menudo and Mariachi Los Nobles were among the artists in town to entertain the crowd.

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The streets were crowded with people playing carnival games, eating, talking and celebrating. To complement the celebratory mood, several people dressed in traditional, brightly colored Mexican clothing. Street vendors hawked their wares, mostly hand-made jewelry, stuffed animals and soda.

There were no immediate reports of trouble. The area was heavily patroled by the Los Angeles Police Department, and security guards searched all who entered the area for weapons.

'It's been real quiet,' said Officer Mark Martinez. 'But it wouldn't be too difficult to sneak a gun in here.'

If it was not for the all too familiar hazy downtown skyline, the city's Broadway district could have easily been mistaken for a city in Latin America. The dialogue overheard on the street was almost all in Spanish, and the cultural tradition and ethnic pride was evident as people sang songs and danced.

Cinco de Mayo, which is not widely celebrated in Mexico, has become a major holiday in California. On May 5, 1863, a small force of Mexican soldiers won a battle against a stronger force of French soldiers near the Mexican town of Pueblo, a victory that is celebrated as a symbol of Mexico's struggle against foreign domination.

Although it doesn't fall on May 5, L.A. Fiesta Broadway is the city's biggest celebration of Mexican culture and considered a de facto Cinco de Mayo event.

Close to 500 people gathered around a ring sponsored by the Great Western Forum and watched professional boxers spar in the 91-degree heat.

'I'm here to burn off some weight,' said boxer David Dixon, ranked No. 3 in California. 'I'm always good for a good cause.'

Though there was no violence, several of the partygoers could be seen drinking alcoholic beverages on the streets, an infraction in California.

Police confiscated bottles from those drinking on the streets, but no arrests were made.

Legal drinking was happening in force at a few, fenced-off beer gardens where security guards checked the identification of all those who entered for the two-drink maximum.

The city's homeless also attended the event, walking to the party from Skid Row, about three blocks away. One homeless man said he was searching for food scraps in a trash can because there were plenty of leftovers from the hundreds of thousands of people who were sampling ethnic food from at least a dozen countries.

Many corporations sponsored booths at the event, attempting to tap into the city's huge Hispanic population by giving out free food samples, cheap sunglasses and long distance calls.

Representatives from AIDS Project L.A. passed out condoms and brochures in English and Spanish. With much of the nation's attention focusing on high-risk groups, Hispanics with AIDS have gone largely unnoticed, said Robert King, a volunteer.

'Unfortunately, the spread of the disease into the Hispanic community has been rapid,' King said.

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