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    Fiesta is on, but dancers in limbo

    The celebration in Clearwater called off last year has trouble this year with bringing in a Mexican ballet troupe.

    By ADRIENNE P. SAMUELS
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published September 12, 2002


    CLEARWATER -- Mexico's President Vicente Fox last year asked his fellow citizens to forgo their Mexican independence day celebrations out of respect for the Sept. 11 attacks. Last year's Clearwater festivities were canceled.

    This year the celebration is scheduled to begin Friday. But it, too, might be affected by Sept. 11.

    Guards along the U.S.-Mexico border have questioned the visas for the popular ballet company Ballet Folklorico de Hidalgo. Members may not make it here in time for the Clearwater show, according to the Mexican Council of Tampa Bay.

    "We have a problem at the border because our groups can't get through," said Odilon Mesquite, vice president of the council. "This is a big problem right now."

    Late Wednesday, Mesquite said he hoped that members of the ballet would be granted their travel visas. If so, members of the ballet would have time to ride their chartered bus from northern Mexico to Clearwater for the event, which two years ago attracted nearly 2,000 Mexican nationals from throughout Florida. Mexican artisans and dancers, as well as government officials, reconnected with friends and family living in the Tampa Bay area.

    "We're going to have our celebration, anyway, if we don't have the ballet; but we're really worried," Mesquite said.

    The issue is particularly troubling for the area's Mexican population because they were asked not to publicly celebrate Mexican independence day in 2001.

    Clearwater and Mexico, particularly the state of Hidalgo, share a bond marked by the exchange of millions of dollars a year. Mexican immigrants settle in the United States and often wire money home.

    Mexican independence day traces back to Sept. 16, 1810, when the Rev. Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla stood atop a church and shouted el grito, or a call to arms, to the indigenous people of the country now known as Mexico.

    That call -- "Mejicanos, Viva Mejico!" -- told members of Mexico's lowest caste to take back the country that was originally theirs before Spanish conquistadors took over.

    Three hundred years of exploitation prompted the Indian and mestizo (people of mixed Spanish and Indian descent) forces to take up machetes and axes against the Spaniards living in Mexico.

    It was the beginning of the revolution of native Mexicans against Spain.

    The history is "most definitely" grim, admits Jacqueline Lee Craig, vice president of money-wiring company Envios Hidalgo and a sponsor for this weekend's events. But the history is what makes Mexican independence day so important, Craig said.

    "There's close to 19,000 of us living in Clearwater," Craig said.

    The three-day festival starts Friday at noon.

    If you go

    Festivities run from Friday through Sunday at the Harborview Center, 300 Cleveland St., Clearwater.

    Friday's events: noon to 6 p.m., artisan exhibit and sale; 8 p.m., welcome to the celebration and performances by several ballet troupes; 10:30 p.m., the presentation of awards to winners in the Mexican-Clearwater soccer and basketball leagues; 11:30 p.m., the independence day shout; midnight -- 2 a.m., mariachi band plays.

    Saturday's events: noon to 6 p.m., artisan exhibit and ballet performances; 9 p.m., a large party featuring Super 48 Sound and Sentimiento Latino.

    Sunday's events: 9 p.m., an end of festival jam featuring Sonido Titanic and Banda la Herencia de Guerrero.

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