Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Dontel Bautista, 7, of Saratoga Springs, pulls his sombrero down over his eyes at the seventh annual celebration of Mexico's Independence in Salt Lake City.

Yovaanni Villota isn't from Mexico — he's a proud Colombian — yet on Saturday he gathered with thousands of others to commemorate Mexico's independence from Spain.

"I came to the festival to have fun with my kid," Villota said. "I knew the people here would be nice, and I wanted to see and experience a different culture."

For the seventh annual celebration of Mexico's independence in Salt Lake City, Sylvia Haro, president of Fiesta Mexican Inc., wanted to represent a broad range of cultural traditions. With artists flying in from Chiapas, Mexico, the southernmost tip of the country, coupled with Utah artists performing on the same stage, she accomplished just that.

"I wanted to focus on the cultural traditions throughout Mexico and on up because people are proud of their hometown traditions," Haro said. "This way we can learn about and be proud of each others' heritage."

The singing and dancing at the festival were the biggest draw for Villota, adding it can be difficult to find events in Utah were people can salsa.

Juan Ruiz, the program coordinator for Fiesta Mexicano, said music and dance techniques from southern, central and northern states in Mexico were represented at the festival. Artists performed pre-Hispanic Aztec dances and "La Bruja," a dance from Veracruz that warns children to avoid the witch (bruja) that lives in the waters of ditches.

"The energy here today has been amazing," Ruiz said. "We've seen people from every culture and country here to celebrate Mexico's independence."

Haro noted that although people who migrate to a new land are often encouraged to abandon their old culture, "It's important for children to know where they come from. The festival is a way for them to learn about their backgrounds."

The festival is also an opportunity for others to participate in a culture outside of their own, Haro said.

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