A while back, someone suggested that Garden Grove change its municipal slogan from “City of Youth and Ambition” to “City of Festivals.” The idea never gained much traction, but the impulse resonates. We do indeed have a bunch of events on our civic calendar.
Of course, the most famous is our Strawberry Festival, which last week packed tens of thousands into the community’s downtown area and helps connect us to our rural past.
Each fall – in this case, starting on Sept. 23 – the Village Green Park will host an Arab American Festival.
In October, the Korean Festival will light up the Koreatown area along Garden Grove Boulevard between Magnolia and Brookhurst streets, highlighted by a well-attended parade.
In February, Garden Grove Park was again the location for the annual Tet Festival, billed as the largest such celebration outside of Vietnam.
Each of these events is emblematic of the community’s growth and development. The Strawberry Festival, dating back to 1959, is a continuation of an earlier tradition, called Grover’s Day. While the original community holiday paid tribute to Garden Grove’s agricultural economy (some sources refer to it as “Grower’s Day”), the Strawberry Festival was a way of bridging the city’s transition from farmland to suburban tracts.
In the 1970s and 80s, the growth of a large Korean business district along what was once called Garden Square (anyone remember Chris ‘N Pitts? Or the Grove Theater? Or Anthony’s Department Store?) led to a festival. Similarly, as Little Saigons popped up in Garden Grove and Westminster, we had several Tet events, the major one eventually coming to Westminster Avenue.
If you travel along Brookhurst Street from Hazard to Westminster, you’ll see a number of Arabic-named businesses reflecting the growth of an Arab community around the Islamic Society of Orange County mosque on 13th Street.
Combined with a node of Arab businesses and neighbors further north on Brookhurst into Anaheim, you have a rising population with heritages that go back to the Middle and Near East.
However, there is one part of our population that’s not getting its festival, and that is the fast-increasing Hispanic segment. In Garden Grove and Westminster, the percentage of Spanish-surnamed residents is well past a third and in Stanton, Latinos are the majority.
Stanton has an excellent Cinco de Mayo observance, but the location – the relatively small Community Services Center, which suffers from a lack of available parking nearby – makes it less a rallying point than a brief interlude.
Mayor Bill Dalton of Garden Grove has suggested a Tamale Festival. The desert community of Indio has had a tamale festival since 1992, held the first weekend in December.
Attendance (if such crowd estimates are truly reliable) can exceed 100,000 (120,000, reportedly in 2000) and among the attractions are the “world’s largest tamale” (one foot in diameter and 40 feet long). A smaller event is held each December in Placentia (estimated attendance 16,000).
In November a tamale festival will be held in Los Angeles for an estimated 45,000 attendees.
Tamales have been part of Southwest culture since before the arrival of Cortez. The many variations on the tamale – different meats, grains, vegetables, etc. – make it a natural for different categories and prizes.
Add in music, games, booths and you could well have another jewel of a festival to go along with the four we already have. So, when I was making some strawberry treats this weekend, I couldn’t help but think how folks might also like spicier fare and the south-of-the border flavor it would bring to our unofficial “city of festivals.”