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Brian Nicholson, El Observador de Utah
Melissa Esqueda, Vicki Ramirez and Ariel Juarez, walk to the stage during the Fiesta Mexicana at the Utah State Fair in 2010.

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah State Fair is a showcase of the Beehive State's agriculture, goods and people.

The fair, says Jose Enriquez, director of a K-16 educational program that empowers Hispanic youths to finish high school and graduate from college, is also a natural venue to further the understanding of Utahns' respective cultures.

"There's a need for us to share common ground. What better place to do that than the fairgrounds?" said Enriquez, vice principal of Timpview High School and director of Latinos in Action.

On Saturday, Latinos In Action — junior high and high school students from throughout the state — will volunteer and perform at the Fiesta Mexicana, to be held in conjunction with the State Fair.

Now in its 10th year, Fiesta Mexicana celebrates Mexican Independence Day or "El Grito." El Grito, Spanish for "the cry," celebrates Mexican hero Miguel Hidalgo's cry to take up arms for the nation's independence from Spain.  

The fiesta begins at 11 a.m. and is free with paid admission to the fair.

Fiesta Mexicana includes traditional food, entertainment, music and ceremonies to commemorate 201 years of Mexican independence. This year's fiesta features the Mexican state of Guanajuato. Jorge Alfredo Cervantes, a Guanajuato performer, is scheduled to take the stage at 6 p.m.

The day's events also include an appearance by the University of Utah women's basketball team and photo opportunities with Maya & Miguel of the animated children's public television series of the same name.

Head coach Anthony Levrets said the U.'s women's team and coaching staff are "incredibly diverse" and as a group, try to take part in a number of cultural opportunities in the community.

"It's all of us trying to work out how to live together and reach a common goal," Levrets said.

"Plus, we want people to come to our games."

There are no Latina players on the U. women's roster this season, but that could change as soon as next year. According to ESPN.com, a Latina high school player from California has made a verbal commitment to play for the university in the 2012 season.

Utah players will sign autographs, give away game tickets and shoot hoops with children from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. "You can't ask people to come (to the games) and not give something back," he said. 

This is Fiesta Mexicana's third year at the Utah State Fair, said president Jesse Soriano.

The organization made a deliberate decision to stage the event in a venue familiar to all Utahns. "The State Fair gives us a tremendous audience. It (Fiesta Mexicana) is becoming more of a general community event," Soriano said.

Soriano said it is especially important that Utahns learn about Mexican history and culture because their respective histories are intertwined. Mexico's Constitution, for instance, is modeled after the United States', Soriano said.

"I happen to think, as a old history teacher, that our histories are so interrelated we ought to teach Mexican history along with American history," he said.

Presently, U.S. immigration policies are the focal point of the two nations' shared history. Unfortunately, the rhetoric over the issues has generated more heat than light, Enriquez said.

"There doesn't need to be this hostility. The emotions run high on both ends. I feel strongly that our youth can take us to a different level by sharing and overcoming something that has been sad and a true detriment to our growth as a state," Enriquez said of the debate.

A good starting point for that conversation would be a visit to Fiesta Mexicana, Enriquez said.

"One of the things the community in general needs to know and understand is that we value the same things they do. We value our families. We value this state as well. We value what it does and how it's helped us," Enriquez said.

It is especially important that this message is communicated by youths to other youths, said Enriquez.

"That’s our future," Enriquez said.

Editors note: The Deseret News and El Observador de Utah are among the sponsors of Fiesta Mexicana.

Fiesta Mexicana Utah 

Utah State Fairpark, 155 N. 1000 West 

11 a.m. - 9 p.m. Children's Activity Area

Maya & Miguel photo opportunities every hour on the half hour 

Mexican face masks sponsored by the Utah Museum of Fine Arts

Mexican flowers, maracas and masks sponsored by KUED/V-Me

Clowns and balloon animals

University of Utah Women's Basketball Team, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

11 a.m. Welcome to Fiesta Mexicana

Opening remarks by Andy Acosta, La Jefa 1490 and Gladys Chavez, Telemundo

Welcome by Jesse Soriano, president of Fiesta Mexicana

11:30 a.m. Mariachi Juvenil

Noon Latinos in Action

12:30 p.m. Telemundo cash machine

1 p.m. Los Gitanos

2 p.m. Danza Nahui Ehacati

2:30 p.m. Telemundo cash machine

3:30 p.m. Ruben Hofer

4 p.m. Re-Encuentro Norteno

5 p.m. Los Alia2 - Live Mexican regional music

6 p.m. Jorge Alfredo Cervantes

7 p.m. Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera look-alike contest by Viva Frida

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7:15 p.m. Introduction and recognition of local and state officials

Color Guard presented by the U.S. Army; United State national anthem by Mary Madrigal

7:30 p.m. Official ceremony of "El Grito."

Special recognition of State of Guanajuato presented by the board of directors of Fiesta Mexicana

Introduction of Consul de Mexico, Socorro Rovirosa

"El Grito" of Mexican Independence by Rovirosa

Mexican National Anthem by Yunuen Carrillo and other traditional Mexican songs

8 p.m. Banda Calibre

9 p.m. Grupo Desafio

10 p.m. Event closes

E-mail: marjorie@desnews.com