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With Latinos now making up more than 13 percent of Utah's population, what better place to showcase their culture than the Utah State Fair?
That's the goal of the Utah State Fair Corp. and Fiesta Mexicana Inc., which are teaming up for the third year to make the annual event more appealing to the state's fast-growing Latino population. The fair begins Thursday, Sept. 6, and runs through Sept. 16.
"This is where we celebrate our heritage. And Latinos have such an amazing part in Utah history," said Utah State Fairpark Executive Director Clark Caras, beginning with the 1776 explorations of the state by two Spanish Catholic priests, Fathers Escalante and Dominguez.
"We have 11 days of parties at the State Fair," he added. "We're excited that one of these is a fiesta."
Caras was referring to events planned for Sept. 15, which is celebrated as Mexican Independence Day. A rodeo, musical performances, cooking demonstrations and activities for children will provide a buildup to El Grito, a symbolic ceremony in which Socorro Rovirosa, the Mexican consul in Salt Lake City, will lead a group exclamation of Mexico's independence from Spain.
"We should celebrate any country's independence from tyranny," said Jesse Soriano, former director of the state Office of Ethnic Affairs and president of the Fiesta Mexicana board.
"This partnership with the State Fair has been outstanding for us. It's allowed us to make [Independence Day] a statewide affair," he added. "We didn't want it to be just a Mexican affair but to be accessible to the whole community."
Or as fellow Fiesta Mexicana board member Anita Watson, a native of Chile, put it: "It's the same idea as everybody being Irish on St. Patrick's Day."
While Sept. 15 will be the big day, the emphasis on Latino culture will be evident from day one of the fair when photographs by Agustín Victor Casasola go on display.
"He was the first Mexican photographer to capture what was going on in his country in the late 1800s and early 1900s the revolution, the poor, the rich, aristocrats, everyday workers," Watson said.
The State Fair exhibit prepared in conjunction with Artes de Mexico will focus on the trades of Mexico, she said, adding "they were similar to what was going on in Utah at the same time. It shows the similarities of the cultures."
Caras said visitors will see more signs of Latino culture throughout the fairgrounds, with numerous vendors displaying signs in Spanish.
"In this day and age," noted State Fair marketing director Aaron Rennaker, "we can't look past the Mexican and Hispanic populations and their contributions to and influence on our community. … It's here to stay."
That influence will be most apparent Sept. 15, beginning with an 11 a.m. rodeo. Featured performers include Tomás Garcilazo, a third-generation charro, the term that applies to masters of horsemanship and roping.
Garcilazo has traveled the world displaying his talents, working with Disney's Wild West Show in Paris as well as performing at the White House and the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
He will share the limelight with Escaramuza Charra La Potosina, a group of women who ride sidesaddle in colorful, full-length dresses, doing choreographed maneuvers to musical accompaniment. Their routines honor the women of the Mexican revolution, who created dusty diversions on horseback so the revolutionaries could attack the Spanish federales from behind.
"Mexican rodeos involve a lot of entertainment, not just bull roping or barrel racing," Soriano said. "This is what we wanted to bring out part of the beauty and the culture."
Besides the rodeo, there will be cooking demonstrations by Red Iguana owner Lucy Cardenas, bands playing on two stages and dance performances by Ballet Folklórico and Aztec groups.
Then it's over to the grandstand for the 7 p.m. proclamation of independence.
"This is an educational event creating cultural awareness," Soriano said. "And being at the State Fair, hopefully it will bring unity to the entire community."
Fiesta Mexicana's logo has the flags of the United States and Mexico intertwined within the outline of the state of Utah. "It's important to us … to be able to do that in our incredible country," said Anita Watson, a Fiesta Mexicana trustee.