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Tradition on march in Yuba City's Our Lady of Guadalupe procession
The procession had not yet swept through Morton Street, and Cynthia Cuna strolled with her family Sunday toward the spectacle honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico.
Cuna and her husband, mother, cousin and 3-week-old baby girl — sound asleep in a stroller — would eventually join the parade of about 3,000 celebrants en route to St. Isidore Catholic Church.
"It's grown a lot," said Cuna, 26, of the event, which she has been taking part in for 21 years.
Cuna lives in Sacramento now. But the special day always brings her back to Yuba City.
On Sunday, streets along the route were packed with people, curb to curb. Children held hands so as not to get lost in the swell. The brass band, prayers and street theater brought residents into their front yards to watch.
Cuna said she remembers her first procession. She was 5 and wore a new dress made at home in the traditional style of a Mexican peasant.
"My mom put ribbons in our hair," she said. "We didn't have horses and a band. Nothing as elaborate as today. It was just singing."
Her extended family members take part in nearly every aspect of the festivities. Some build floats, others are involved in music.
As the first group of colorfully dressed horsemen approached, Cuna's cousin, mounted atop a dancing black steed, let out the raucous "grito" — a high-pitched shout of celebration.
The horse, El Forestero, received two years of special training in Mexico before being returned home to Yuba City with his owner in March. He stood calmly and allowed admirers to stroke his head until a cue sent him into an intricate set of hops, swivels and steps.
Cuna's mother, Maria Rodriguez, 55, accepted numerous compliments from passers-by for the wildly colorful embroidered dress she wore Sunday. It had been made in Jalisco, Mexico, where the family is rooted.
The tradition of Our Lady of Guadalupe processions dates to December 1531, when the Virgin Mary was said to have appeared to the Aztec Indian Juan Diego. Mass conversions to Catholicism followed in Mexico, and Central and South America.
Guadalupe is the Spanish pronunciation of an Aztec word that refers to a woman defying a serpent.
The event that celebrates Guadalupe "unites indigenous culture and Christianity," said Cuna. "It brings together our Mexican heritage and our religious beliefs."
Several strangers in the procession Sunday asked to peek into the stroller.
Cynthia Cuna's husband, Alex Cuna, 27, smiled proudly as he introduced the baby, Izabela, who was dressed for the occasion in a lacy dress.
"She'll make this her tradition too," he said.
CONTACT reporter Nancy Pasternack at 749-4781