A woman holding a Mexican flag and her partner dance to music, during Centilia Cultural Center's Cinco de Mayo celebration at Plaza Roberto Maestas

El Centro de la Raza Hosts Largest Cinco de Mayo Celebration Since Pandemic

“[It’s] not just a superficial holiday [for people] to go and eat tacos and party and wear sombreros,” said Hilda Magana. “People need to know the history.”

by Amanda Ong

On Saturday, May 6, El Centro de la Raza will host its annual celebration of Cinco de Mayo, with a pop-up mercado (market) from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and entertainment from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The event will be held in Beacon Hill at Plaza Roberto Maestas, and it will include a children’s fashion show, folkloric dancers, singers, rappers, and plenty of vendors and food. It is El Centro’s largest Cinco de Mayo celebration since 2019, before the pandemic. 

Cinco de Mayo is a celebration of Mexico’s defeat of the French in 1862 in the Battle of Puebla, a battle in which the French army had far greater numbers and artillery than the Mexican soldiers. Since then, it has been a Mexican celebration and holiday — though it is actually much more popular in the United States as a Mexican holiday than in Mexico itself, because of its resonance with the Chicano movement in the 1960s. 

“Chicanos of the ’60s and ’70s really adopted Cinco de Mayo as they related to the struggle between this big, bad, French foreign legion and this small ragtag army of Mexico [that] won the Battle of Puebla,” Veronica Gallardo, facility manager and cultural events coordinator at El Centro, told the South Seattle Emerald. “They related to the underdog battle in so many different ways, in the struggle against systemic racism that they faced here in the United States.”

Now, Cinco de Mayo has become a celebratory holiday for Mexican Americans. However, it has been highly commercialized for the rest of the American public and estranged from its actual history. 

“[Cinco de Mayo] is not just a superficial holiday [for people] to go and eat tacos and party and wear sombreros,” Hilda Magana, director of El Centro’s José Martí Child Development Center, said to the South Seattle Emerald. “People need to know the history.” 

In addition to folkloric dancers, music, and youth performers from El Centro, there will also be vendors selling goods, like handcrafted jewelry and food from Outsider Pizza, Shark Bite Ceviches, and Antojitos Lita Rosita. There will also be T-shirts and merchandise available.

“[We are] hosting the event in the beloved community, Plaza Roberto Maestas,” Gallardo said. “We built this beautiful area of the plaza to do things like these cultural events. And folks that live in apartments [above] come down, and it’s a multiracial community. [They] come down and they celebrate it, they love it, and they enjoy the music and enjoy the food.”

Above all, the Cinco de Mayo celebration is an opportunity to bring multiracial communities together, educate people, and empower the Mexican American community. 

“We like to celebrate and provide people with the history of our people, so they would feel proud,” Magana said. “Cinco de Mayo is very important to celebrate here. … Winning against the French [when] they [had] powerful equipment to defeat Mexico, but the brave people in Mexico were able to win in spite of that [was a big victory]. And that’s why it’s so significant, because it is important to know the history is nothing about tacos, beer, and margaritas.”

Come to El Centro’s Cinco de Mayo Celebration on May 6 between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. at Plaza Roberto Maestas. The event is free to the public, but you can RSVP on El Centro’s Facebook page. If you are interested in volunteering at future events with El Centro, check out its website, or visit this page if you would like to donate to its work as well.

Amanda Ong (she/her) is a Chinese American writer from California. She is currently a master’s candidate at the University of Washington Museology program and graduated from Columbia University in 2020 with degrees in creative writing and ethnicity and race studies.

📸 Featured Image: A woman holding a Mexican flag and her partner dance to music during Centilia Cultural Center’s Cinco de Mayo celebration at Plaza Roberto Maestas in Seattle, Washington, on May 5, 2018. (Photo: Carolyn Bick)

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