EL CENTRO – Adults, children, and even their pets, lined up along 8th Street from Wensley Avenue down to Main Street in El Centro Saturday night for El Centro's annual Light Parade and Street Festival. The event, full of lights, color, sound, and tossing of beads to festive crowds, grows in numbers each year as residents make the trip to the parade route. 

El Centro's Mardi Gras and Light Parade attempts to recreate the world famous New Orleans Mardi Gras Event here in Imperial Valley for local residents with a parade and street festival with the traditional theme colors of purple, green, and gold, along with glittery costumes, masks, and beads for everyone.  Monique Marquez brought her daughters, Aber, 3, and Sofia, 4, for the third straight year to watch the bands, enjoy the vendors, and enjoy the community event.

“They enjoy the lights, the Spartan Band,” Marquez said, and she spoke of the importance of community events like the parade. “They bring everyone together. Everyone enjoys themselves. They are really important for our families and the community.”

The sound of Zydeco music awaited revelers at the end of the parade as marching bands from Central Union High, Calexico, Holtville, and various middle schools played jubilant dancing numbers, marched, shuffled, and shimmied down the parade adorned in strings of lights and beads. 

The Leal family came from Calexico, and Laura Leal admitted her family was not familiar with the event until their daughter became a shield bearer for the marching band.

Leal said the parade had sparked an interest in the festivities and they look forward to attending in the coming years.Their attention on that evening was “Watching our daughter, and the food. Of course, we love community events,” she said.

Floats from El Centro Regional Medical Center, the city of El Centro and a handful of others brought a joyful jamboree of creativeness and visible festivity leading people from the parade route to the clamor downtown. Live bands, beer gardens, and food vendors for everyone to revel in a glitzy, jubilation of what Mardi Gras,or Fat Tuesday is all about. 

El Centro resident Daniel Leal is a former Spartan Band member who traveled to Louisiana in 2014 for a genuine New Orleans Mardi Gras Parade. Now he makes it out to El Centro’s Light and Street Festival to rekindle his memory of marching in The Big Easy amongst throngs of revelers.

“Its good, it’s very friendly, and I like that it's more open,” Leal said as he described the local event. Leal admitted he enjoys “the spirit of Mardi Gras,” and coming out with his family to talk about his experiences with the holiday in New Orleans.

Luis Ruiz brought his girlfriend, Ramona Drew, and her daughter Gabby Stomokowski to the street festival. “We just wanted to get out of the daily norm, trying to stay out of the house during this time of year," Ruiz said. "There are just times when there is nothing to do, and events like this give us an opportunity to enjoy good vibes and get out.” 

The words Mardi Gras are French and mean “Fat Tuesday.” It signifies the annual practice of indulging and eating fatty, richer foods and drinks for the last night before beginning the ritual of fasting for the Lenten period that Christians around the world celebrate.

El Centro's Mardi Gras King, Devin Apodaca, talked about the evening as he traveled down the parade route and among the crowds.

"It was awesome," Apodaca said. "People were screaming and cheering. We have people following the parade down to Main Street, (and) they are down here dancing and having a good time. It's amazing.”

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