by Carolyn Bick
Lines for creamy, spicy ears of elotes, Mexican street corn, stretched into La Plaza Roberto Maestas, as festival attendees streamed past the statue of the late Mexican activist for whom the plaza was named. Beyond, families watched and applauded other festival-goers, who, inspired by the brassy, lively sounds of Banda Vagos’ music, danced beneath the afternoon sun that shone on Centilia Cultural Center’s 13th-annual Cinco de Mayo festival.
Cinco de Mayo celebrates the Battle of Puebla, in which the Mexican Army defeated French occupying soldiers near Puebla City, Mexico, on May 5, 1862. But despite appearances at Saturday’s South Seattle festival, Cinco de Mayo is not as popular a holiday in Mexico as it is in the United States, Centilia Cultural Center’s Housing and Economic Development Director Miguel Maestas said in a phone interview, before the event. He said the holiday is widely celebrated in the United States, because when participants in the student-led Chicano Movement of the 1960s became interested in organizing for Mexican-American civil rights, the holiday fit better with their school year schedule than Mexico’s actual independence day, Fiestas Patrias.
But this doesn’t mean the holiday has no meaning for Mexicans and those of Mexican descent, Maestas said.
“It’s a symbol of a true-to-life David and Goliath story … and really ended the foreign occupation or domination of Mexico by the French,” Maestas said.
And given the current political climate, and how many Mexicans and immigrants feel under the current presidential administration, Maestas said, it is more important than ever to celebrate a holiday that focuses on standing up for one’s community, and demanding justice.
It was in this vein that the celebration blended both a joyous cultural celebration with more somber notes, placing booths within the festival area that contained information surrounding emergency planning for immigrant families.
“This is … to get the opportunity to work with [families], and plan around, in the event that parents are either detained or deported, to have the planning of legal documents in place, in relation to children, and also assets, like cars, and bank accounts, and property,” Maestas said. “There are also resource booths … for services from across … other organizations here, as well.”
The festival was also a way for Centilia Cultural Center to showcase its relatively new $49,000 development, completed in October 2016. The festival was held in the two-building, multi-use development’s plaza. Maestas said the development was constructed with the community in mind, and includes not only 112 units of affordable housing, but also retail space, a cultural space, and new classrooms and offices.
Maestas said the new development was a boon: despite gloomy weather last year, more than 1,500 people came to the celebration. Given the warm, sunny weather, he expected at least that number, but probably more, this year.
Jed Hoffmann played with son Samuel Hoffman on the playground, while his wife, a Mexican jeweler who has exhibited her work at the center before, worked her jewelry booth in the artists’ area. Hoffman said he likes that the new space has a communal feel to it, and said he brought his children to the festival, as a way of connecting them with their Mexican heritage.
“It’s also good for them to see [their mother] working, and doing what she does,” Hoffmann said.