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LA children celebrate 'Fat Tuesday' on Olvera Street

By Andrew Lopez
Published: Wednesday, February 22, 2012, at 08:47AM
Andrew Lopez

A New Orleans-style jazz band gave the parade life as students walked alongside them.

While many adults celebrate Mardis Gras with decadent food, drinks and colored beads, about 200 children gathered on historic Olvera Street to celebrate “Fat Tuesday” with singing, dancing and a piñata.

The event was hosted by the nonprofit organization, Olvera Street Merchants Association Foundation (OSMAF), not only as a way to give young students a chance to hear New Orleans-style jazz and march alongside the band, but also as a way for them to connect and embrace the oldest street in Downtown.

“We feel that we’re the spirit of representing the community and keeping a lot of the culture going,” OSMAF member Dianna Guerrero-Robertson said. “This is home.”

Emma Branigan brought her kids out to the festivities, and she agrees that these events help them get in touch with their roots.

“I feel like it gives my children a bit of a connection to where they’re from and learning something about it,” Branigan said.”

Her daughter, Niamh, was aware of Olvera Street’s historical significance and absorbed in wearing her newly made mask and listening to the music.

Unfortunately, the event that once drew anywhere from 500 to 1,000-plus students has shrunk considerably due to budget cuts. Schools are now unable to afford buses to transport students and the organization can't afford to put on a larger show, Guerrero-Robertson said.

Still, there were nearly 50 students from Para Los Ninos, a charter school located in Downtown, who made it to the celebration of overabundance that precedes “Ash Wednesday."

“I’ve grown up in Los Angeles my whole life and never knew that Olvera Street had a Mardi Gras celebration,” second grade teacher Antonio Panoringan said. “It’s for [the students] to see it’s a celebration; just to be exposed to it.”

This kids portion of the event is relatively cheap, Guerrero-Robertson said, costing OSMAF about $4,000 for the morning festivities. It's the popular night celebration that costs up to $20,000 and was too expensive to host this year.

“You gotta have the samba dancers, you gotta have the the bands, you have to have entertainment, nightlife,” Guerrero-Robertson said.

OSMAF is working to build a co-op of other nonprofits on Olvera Street to bring back the evening event.

“We’re hoping to bring that back in the next couple years,” Guerrero-Robertson said.

In order for Olvera Street to live on as developers try to gentrify the area, Guerrero-Robertson wanted the students to take home one message:

“It’s yours. Keep it. Save it.”


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