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December 21, 2014

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Viva Fiesta Las Vegas! Event immerses downtown in Latin American culture

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Juan Barajas Martinez and his daughter, Ana Maria Barajas, dance to “El Son de la Negra” at this year’s Fiesta Las Vegas on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013.

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Performers from the Comparza Morelense Cultural Dance Troupe snake through the crowd at Viva Las Vegas on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013.

The aroma of fresh corn on the cob, street tacos and barbacoa wafted through the Fremont Street Experience, mingling with traditional Mexican music as thousands packed the venue Saturday afternoon for Fiesta Las Vegas, the city’s annual celebration of Hispanic culture.

This year, the fair coincided with Mexican Independence Day weekend along with one of that country’s most anticipated sporting events as unbeaten Mexican sensation Saul “Canelo” Alvarez took on boxing’s biggest star, Floyd Mayweather Jr., Saturday night at the MGM Grand.

Children packed onto carnival rides while their parents sipped on beer and nibbled on Mexican street fares, some swaying along to the music and waving Mexican flags in the air.

“I love this music. Who doesn’t like the music of their people?” Juan Barajas Martinez, 71, said in Spanish as he nursed a can of Modelo Especial and danced to “El Son de la Negra,” a popular mariachi song.

“God allows me to visit my children (in Las Vegas) every so often,” said Barajas Martinez, who resides in Costa Rica in Mexico's Sinaloa state.

His daughter, Ana Maria Barajas, draped over her shoulders a towel imprinted with the Mexican flag as she prodded him and other relatives from the audience into dancing with her. Meanwhile, a group of two dozen performers from the state of Morelos in towering, heavily embellished costumes snaked through the boisterous crowd.

Though they weren’t participating in the dance competition, performers from the Comparza Morelense Cultural Dance Troupe were clearly the show-stealers that afternoon. Having won the contest for the past five years, the group decided this year to perform off-stage to rile up the audience, providing several encore performances.

“We’re here to share a little piece of our beloved state with you,” Comparza organizer Maria Garcia told the crowd from the stage. “Don’t stop dancing — get rid of that stress with us.”

The show’s emcee provided few English translations, and a handful of spectators appeared puzzled by the event. Some tourists, such as Tricia Whitrow, visiting Las Vegas from Australia for the weekend, were pleasantly surprised by the introduction to Latin American culture.

“We were just coming along and saw this,” Whitrow said. “People have been very nice explaining everything to us when we ask.”

The festival is a tradition for Las Vegan Celso Villa, who has attended for the past three years.

“It’s good to show my children about our country’s traditions,” said Villa, a gardener who moved to the United States from Zacatecas 17 years ago. “They love it.”

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