Parade peaks Cinco de Mayo celebration of Lation Cultures

by Andy Skemp

Smiles appeared on faces of many different shades Saturday as feet tapped to the beat of Latino music and heads turned to see who was next in the parade line, be it salsa dancers, a politician or Boy Scouts.
The conclusion of the activities surrounding the celebration of Cinco de Mayo, the parade incorporated various Latino groups and different aspects of their cultures.
“Anybody can actually participate,” said Brenda Vazquez, University student and member of La Raza Student Cultural Center, as she explained what exactly the Cinco de Mayo parade is all about.
Vazquez’s comment proved true enough. The three-hour procession down Concord Street on St. Paul’s west side displayed a wide variety of participants, including folk dancers, beauty queens and Girl Scouts.
An overcast sky never seemed to put a damper on the festivities as the bailadores donning brightly colored costumes sang, stomped and twirled their way through the street. Local Girl Scouts sent on-looking kids and adults scrambling for candy thrown at their feet. Antique automobiles lined with new chrome slowly cruised by, showing off in front of the responsive crowd.
The melodies of salsa and meringue, the hum of two languages being spoken and the scent of fajitas, spiced rice with peppers and other Latino cuisine, gave the day a unique flare, enjoyment in which, as Vazquez put it, anybody could participate, including those exploring options outside of lutefisk and sauerkraut.
“It’s a mix. Not only Chicanos, but other Latino communities participate as well.” said Nancy Barcelo, associate vice president for multicultural affairs at the University.
The parade ended a week-long Cinco de Mayo celebration; many events were sponsored on campus by La Raza.
One of La Raza’s major goals as an organization is to achieve, through cultural programs and events, a greater historical, political and cultural awareness concerning the Chicano and Latino communities.
And the group did an exhaustive job of achieving this goal last week, with 18 different Cinco de Mayo events.
Although Cinco de Mayo was originally a celebration of the defeat of invading French forces by the Mexican army at Puebla on May 5, 1862, the holiday has come to be a day for those of many different Latin American descents to celebrate their cultural identity.
“The battle was actually a fairly insignificant one,” Barcelo said, as she explained that the holiday is actually more widely celebrated by Mexicans in the United States than by those in Mexico.
The history of the holiday was only one of the topics at “The Chicana(o) in the 20th Century,” a La Raza-sponsored panel discussion held on Friday. The discussion allowed University professors and graduate students to examine contemporary issues in Chicano culture and the significance of the Cinco de Mayo holiday for the Chicano community.
“It is always one of those times when we ask, ‘OK, what issues have we addressed, did we make any progress?'” said Arcela Nunez Alvarez, a University doctoral candidate in Latin American history.
For Alvarez, one of about 550 Latino students at the University, community cooperation was a major thematic focus in explaining what Cinco de Mayo means for her.
Others acknowledged the need for unity in the Chicano and greater Latino communities as well.
“Many of the issues from 30 years ago are still relevant today, and many are more insidious because they aren’t as obvious,” Barcelo said. “We have to work together, even if it means temporarily jeopardizing our individual needs. Building a community is not a matter-of-fact process.”
“We fight each other because that’s what we’re taught and socialized to do,” said Eden Torres, an instructor in the Department of Women’s Studies. “All of us suffer from internal racism.”
And at the parade this racism seemed to be gone as observers wearing T-shirts with “Puerto Rico” in bold blue and red print, sat alongside others wearing shirts displaying “Viva La Raza” and “Mexico” — visual proof of a unified pride of culture.