University community celebrates Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo, commonly mistaken as Mexico’s Independence Day, is actually a celebration of Mexico’s victory over France in the city of Puebla in 1862.

Jens Krogstad

Sigma Lambda Beta, Sigma Lambda Gamma and members of La Raza Student Cultural Center attended a fiesta celebrating the Mexican holiday Cinco de Mayo this weekend on St. Paul’s west side.

Cinco de Mayo is often mistaken in the United States for Mexico’s Independence Day, which is Sept. 16.

The holiday commemorates La Batalla de Puebla in 1862, during which an outnumbered Mexican army defeated the French at the Mexican city of Puebla.

Today, the holiday is celebrated more in the United States than in Mexico, and those celebrating it are not necessarily Mexican.

“Cinco de Mayo is a Mexican holiday, but it also brings a lot of the Hispanic community together,” said Rodrigo Sanchez-Chavarria, a Chicano studies senior and La Raza board member. “To me, it’s always the fun part of May.”

St. Paul’s west side has been a center of Chicano and Latino culture even before the Hispanic population boom of the 1990s.

“When I moved here in ’88, the only Chicano-Latino stuff was on the west side,” Sanchez-Chavarria said. “I was like, ‘Wow! There are brown people here!’ “

There was a salsa-tasting contest, carnival rides, a street dance and live music, which included folkloric mariachi bands and La Orquesta Sabor Tropical. This year’s event also featured the popular band Los Nativos.

On Friday, Chicano culture was celebrated with a lowrider car show and competition, culminating with the lowrider hydraulic showdown.

A parade Saturday featured the University’s Chicano-Latino fraternity and sorority – Sigma Lambda Beta and Sigma Lambda Gamma.

Sigma Lambda Beta member and Electrical engineering junior Abraham Arevalo, said the fraternity has been going to the parade for five years to stroll.

“Strolling is a type of dance,” he said. “The guys get in a line of five or six and do some steps.”

He said they have been practicing twice each month and increased their work load to twice per week the month before the parade.

Their sisters at Sigma Lambda Gamma were not quite as zealous about their strolling.

“We’re a little more laid back about it,” said sorority member Tasia Tigue, a psychology senior. “We’re going to practice about two hours before the parade.”

Tigue said while the event is a lot of fun, her sorority feels a greater sense of purpose in attending.

“We feel it’s a really important event because Sigma Lambda Gamma is a Latina-based sorority, and we like to support events than emphasize cultural awareness.”

Jens Krogstad welcomes comments at [email protected]