Mariachi, rope tricks highlight Anchorage celebration of Mexican independence

Mike Dunham

The government of Mexico is throwing a party at the Egan Center on Sunday and inviting everyone in Alaska.

Though May 5, the anniversary of a notable battle in 1862, is widely celebrated as Cinco de Mayo in the United States, in Mexico itself the bigger holiday is Sept. 16, the day when, in 1810, Mexico began its fight for independence from Spain in earnest.

Observances in Mexico start on the evening of Sept. 15, said Christian Lissette Aguilera Molina, who handles press, commerce and legal matters at the Mexican Consulate in Anchorage.

"The Mexican president stands on a balcony, rings a bell and waves a flag," she said. He recites the "Call for Independence," a version of the speech delivered by Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla when he summoned his parishioners to church in the town of Dolores and informed them that the revolution was starting.

The ceremony is reenacted throughout Mexico and at Mexican diplomatic missions around the world. In Anchorage -- which seems to be as far north as the festival takes place -- the "Call" ("Grito de Dolores" or "Grito de la Independencia") will be read by Javier Abud-Osuna, Consul of Mexico in Alaska. It recalls the names of heroes of the independence movement and, said Aguilera, "You scream 'Viva Mexico' several times."

There's also dancing, music by the Anchorage band Mariachi Agave Azul and a tamale contest.

The Consulate has been hosting an Independence Day party since 2009, Aguilera said. But this year will feature a special attraction. "It's the first year we're bringing people up from Mexico," she said.

The guest performer is Jorge Ibarria, a charro from Puerto Vallarta.

"Charro" is sometimes translated as "cowboy," but these guys are not your average vaquero. Though they ride, rope and wrangle, charros have a their own elaborate code, traditions and status.

"A charro is the male representative of a Mexican," is how Ibarria put it in a phone interview. They're the main participants in the national sport of Mexico, charreada, similar to an American rodeo. They're also featured in parades, patriotic events and a range of public happenings.

Images of the charro, with his shoulder-wide sombrero, white shirt with showy necktie and fancifully embroidered black suit, are typically used to symbolize the country in everything from political cartoons to travel ads. Some variation of traditional charro garb is commonly seen worn by Mexican men at important formal occasions.

There are three categories of costumes, Ibarria explained. The faena is used in competitions, the gala in weddings and the great gala in weddings, funerals and official presentations. All three are worn in parades. For his Anchorage performances, Ibarria said he would be using both the faena and great gala ensembles.

A fifth generation charro, Ibarria is particularly known for his rope artistry. "I'll be demonstrating tricks and maneuvers," he said, both at the Sunday program at the Egan Center and earlier appearances at Gallo's Mexican Restaurant. It's his first trip to Alaska as a performer, he said, but he has previously visited the state on vacation. On that visit he explored the Kenai Peninsula and, though time is short this time, "I hope to know the city of Anchorage a little better," he said.

Another new twist on the Alaska celebration this year will involve children, Aguilera said.

"Every year the children show up in traditional costumes or dressed like little mariachi," she said. "We want to acknowledge that this time, so we'll have a contest and give them prizes."

A highlight each year is when the young people perform "The Dance of the Old Men." "They dress in masks and sombreros and act very old," Aguilera said. "They're very funny."

• Reach Mike Dunham at or 257-4332.