Despite a few fears from older residents that the gathering could turn into an immigration raid, the city's first Hispanic Heritage Month celebration, sponsored by UNIDOS and the Palestine Chamber of Commerce, turned into a sizzling success.

More than 1,000 people gathered in Palestine's Oxbow Hollow Saturday, on a steamy late summer day, as the city's Hispanic outreach program also celebrated its two-year anniversary in Palestine.

Live music filled the hollow, including the traditional sounds of Mariachi Lara, a Selena tribute band, and Tejano Roots Hall of Fame members Latin Express. People enjoyed Mexican food, beverages, and snacks, purchased from Hispanic vendors, as well as pottery, handcrafts, traditional clothing, and music. A bounce-house, clown, and games entertained the kids.

“We are really happy at how well the community embraced this event,” UNIDOS member Grizelda Castillo said.

“There were many in the older hispanic community that were leery that ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) might show up. They remember how it used to be. They weren’t sure how welcome they or this event would be.

“It was good for them to see so many people from so many different cultures celebrating our culture with us.”

The event, at 215 E. Crawford St., attracted Latinos from many countries, including several from Guatemala. Ben E. Keith, All Star Ford, and All Star AutoPlex helped with sponsorships.

“We had to work hard to get many of the hispanic vendors here,” Castillo said. “Many of them had to travel quite a way. They were also pleased with the event and turnout, and noted we wouldn’t have to beg to get them here next year.”

Several city leaders showed up to support their hispanic neighbors, including City Council Members Dana Goolsby and Larissa Loveless. Latinos make up nearly 25 percent of Palestine's 19,000 people.

“This first-time event was well organized and well attended,” Goolsby said. “My son and I enjoyed great food, music, art, and people. It was a great opportunity to learn about Hispanic heritage and culture.”

As a part of the celebration, the Mexican Consulate helped conduct an “El Grito de Dolores” ceremony. Each year, millions of Mexicans, Mexican-Americans, and revelers from around the world gather the night before Sept. 16 to join in a massive, synchronized call-and-response ceremony that date backs centuries.

It's a tribute to Father Miguel Hidalgo, who on Sept. 16, 1810, cried out to his parish in the small town of Dolores to rise up. The date marks the first move toward Mexican independence from Spain, launching the Mexican War of Independence.

“The El Grito service was very moving,” Castillo said. “There was one woman in the crowd who told me she had not participated in one since she left her homeland.”

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