El Cajon celebrates variety of culture and community at America on Main Street 2017

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Downtown El Cajon turned into a happy, sunny gathering spot on Saturday, May 20, despite blistering temperatures. The occasion that drew residents and visitors out into the heat was the fourth annual America on Main Street event, featuring over eight hours of free fun, music and other entertainment on three performance stages, and family-oriented activities and attractions for children. 

Downtown El Cajon turned into a happy, sunny gathering spot on Saturday, May 20, despite blistering temperatures. The occasion that drew residents and visitors out into the heat was the fourth annual America on Main Street event, featuring over eight hours of free fun, music and other entertainment on three performance stages, and family-oriented activities and attractions for children. 

Prior to other officially scheduled events, which opened at noon, a naturalization ceremony at 11:30 a.m. welcomed 100 new U.S. citizens who beforehand hailed from 54 different nations. Their entry into American citizenship was honored with two military flyovers, also staged in acknowledgment of Saturday as Armed Forces Day.

The theme of the downtown festivities for 2017 was “Come Play for the Day.” Monica Zech, public information officer for the City of El Cajon, provided some history and background about how America on Main Street came to be. Twelve years ago, the city began bringing the area’s residents together for a Friendship Festival, focusing on the diversity of people from El Cajon. That emphasis persists, according to Zech, but the annual downtown gathering shifted to a broader approach for the city’s centennial in 2012. “After the centennial, we thought we should do something like that every year,” Zech recounted. “This is a day to enjoy being outside for a fun, free event. The rides and crafts are all free. And there are 30 performances on three stages throughout the day. This is a fun day for everybody.”

Zech noted that the City of El Cajon is the major sponsor of the event, in partnership with several other sponsoring businesses and organizations. Volunteers staffing some of the booths were drawn from the city’s Recreation Department. Representatives of the branches of military service manned booths, and members of community service organizations were there as well. 

Zech further cited the popularity of this event, which attracts 30,000 to 35,000 attendees into the center of downtown El Cajon each year. Featured attractions included a petting zoo, carnival rides, inflatables, face painting and crafts.

Gabe Marrujo, owner of the El Cajon Downtown Café, said that business early in the day was typical, but the event is well worth supporting, “This is about the same number of diners as usual on Saturday, but this is really good exposure.”

Hosting one nearby booth was Rachel Hilliard, president of the San Diego Chapter of the Buffalo Soldiers, which operates as an affiliate of the national office of the Ninth and Tenth (Horse) Cavalry Association. The local group offers education and appearances designed to provide historically accurate accounts of the contributions of the Buffalo Soldiers within this region and around the country. Hilliard said her organization has had a booth at all four years of America on Main Street. She stated that she continues to be impressed with the event annually. “This is great for all families, all nationalities,” Hilliard said. “Last year, the mayor and city council members came by to introduce themselves. And this year, we met the chief of police.”

El Cajon police officers and firefighters attended — and not merely in their official roles. Eric Lund, president and CEO of the San Diego East County Chamber of Commerce, explained, as he stepped aside from the event’s Chili Cook-Off. “This is a fun event, great for families,” Lund began. “Over here, the only question is whether the police department or fire department will win for best chili. This is a longstanding rivalry.”

The chili contest was conducted in the garden patio at the Olaf Wieghorst Museum. Earlene Hollmichel, the museum’s executive director, was enthusiastic about the turnout for the cook-off. “This is a great event, great exposure for the museum. And we think this is a wonderful location for the Chili Cook-Off.”

And the contest results? Downtown El Cajon Business Partners earned the Judges’ Award. Heartland Fire and Rescue won the People’s Choice for best chili.

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