For fifth year in a row, Little Village has no parade for Cinco de Mayo, an often-misunderstood holiday – Chicago Tribune
While some might have been looking for drink specials and taco twofers on Cinco de Mayo, the Mexican communities in Chicago, for 40 years, celebrated the holiday by commemorating the Batalla de Puebla in Little Village with a parade on Cermak Road and a festival.
Until 2018, when the tradition was derailed.
They haven’t been able to organize the parade and festival since 2018 because of misunderstandings that happened between the organizers and 12th Ward Ald. George Cardenas when he showed a lack of support for the event. Héctor Escobar, president of both Casa Puebla and the Cermak Road Chamber of Commerce, said, “These issues were in the past.” Cardenas declined to comment.
2022 was going to be the year of its comeback, but COVID-19 had other plans.
Casa Puebla and the Cermak Road Chamber of Commerce, the organizations that plan the Cinco de Mayo festivities in Little Village, had been planning the return of the parade and festival since November.
The organizations had invited bands, school groups, charros, mariachis, dancers, ornamented floats, local businesses to have food and handcraft stands and 4,000 people from Puebla, Mexico, to participate in the parade that would have happened on Sunday, May 1. They were expecting around 100,000 people from the Little Village community and all around Chicago to come to enjoy the parade and a festival in Douglass Park, as they had been doing since 1978.
Everything got canceled after an early April COVID-19 outbreak in the organizers’ office. All 12 in-person workers got sick with the virus, and the Casa Puebla director has been in a critical health state since then, Escobar said.
“Health goes first because without health we have nothing and that is the biggest thing this pandemic has taught us,” Escobar said in the cancelation announcement. “It is a real shame that we’re not able to do the festival and parade this year because we were going to integrate new cultural and educational elements to the parade to teach people what really happened in the Batalla de Puebla on Cinco de Mayo.”
Cinco de Mayo is not a big celebration in Mexico — certainly not as big as it its commercial presence in the United States — but it is a very big holiday in the state of Puebla, where Escobar is from.
La Batalla de Puebla took place took place on May 5, 1862, near Puebla City during the Second French Intervention in Mexico. The battle came on the heels of then-President Benito Juárez’s decision to stop paying interest on money owed to France and other countries. So French troops moved in to take over the country, according to the Smithsonian. The battle ended in a victory by the Mexican troops — formed mostly of local Poblanos and Indigenous groups — who were outnumbered by the French.
“(This battle) was against the very, very powerful French army, and so really (Mexico) should not have won that battle, but because they were very animated in defending their land they were able to defeat the French,” said Cesáreo Moreno, visual arts director and chief curator of the National Museum of Mexican Art in Pilsen. “That battle really inspired the rest of the country to rally together against the more powerful French army that was invading.
“I cannot help right now but think about what’s happening in Ukraine: There’s a very powerful world country that is trying to take over a smaller country and this foreign country seems to be holding its own. So, there’s a lot to be said about defending your own land against an invader and the strength or the power that can come from a few early victories in battle.”
The French eventually overran the Mexicans in subsequent battles, but the Mexican victory at Puebla against a better-equipped force provided a patriotic boost to the Mexicans.
People in other parts of Mexico celebrate it with bailables (dances) at school commemorating the date, but not as big as Poblanos do. During Cinco de Mayo, Chicago’s Little Village transforms into a little part of Puebla, celebrating it just like they do back at home for the more than 50,000 Poblanos who live throughout Chicagoland and others from the community who join in to celebrate their “Latinidad.”
But there are many people from Mexico living in the U.S. who are weirded out by how important this celebration seems to be.
“(Cinco de Mayo) has perfect timing because it’s sort of like springtime and people are excited to get out and start doing things again, and it precedes Memorial Day, which is like the official beginning of summer,” Moreno said. “I think it’s really become this sort of commemorative day in the United States, where people kind of confuse the facts and they oftentimes think that it is a Latin American celebration.”
“My family is from northern Mexico, and it was never a thing we celebrated in my community,” said 22nd Ward Ald. Michael Rodríguez.
Jorge Ríos, manager of the restaurant Mi Tierra en La Villita, who is originally from the state of Guerrero in Mexico, echoed the alderman.
“People in the U.S. think that this day is the independence of Mexico, but that is actually on Sept. 16,” Ríos said.
However, Ríos and Rodríguez both agreed that if this holiday supports Mexican businesses, they’re not against it — as long as people know what they’re celebrating.
“I don’t want people to stop celebrating one or the other, it’s just that I would like people who celebrate it (here in the U.S.) to know what Cinco de Mayo is about and when is really our Independence Day … and that they celebrate both!” Ríos said.
For Jorge Arceo and Ariana Quintana, owner and manager of El Nuevo Taconero on Cermak Road, this event has transformed into a big celebration not only of Mexicans but all people of Latin American ethnicity in this country and it also helps Latin American-owned businesses.
“Cinco de Mayo used to be one of our busiest days with more flux of clientele with the people that came to the festival, but since it has stopped, it has affected us a lot,” Arceo said.
Cinco de Mayo is a very busy day for Mi Tierra en La Villita as well, Ríos said, but since the pandemic began, the attendance of the restaurant suffered a lot. Now, it is beginning to surge again, and he thought that with the parade happening, it would have been back to pre-pandemic levels.
Ana Salas, a server at La Casa de Samuel on Cermak Road, said that since she arrived in the U.S. more than three decades ago from Jalisco, Mexico, the celebration of Cinco de Mayo called her attention.
“It seemed a bit weird that they celebrated it so much because that is not how it is in Mexico, but I liked it a lot because people (in Little Village) celebrate the culture, music, food and traditions,” she said. “I did ask myself why (they celebrate it so big) and to this day, I still don’t know.”
Salas and Arceo both think the festival and parade shouldn’t have been canceled.
“It shouldn’t have been canceled because people wait for it for a long time and have expectations, and then they get disappointed when they don’t do it,” Salas said.
“Also, Lollapalooza and all the other festivals in the city are still happening. Why shouldn’t the Cinco de Mayo one still happen?” Arceo said. “We all have been affected by the pandemic and a lot of people have lost loved ones, but like people say: ‘The show must go on.’”
Escobar, the event’s organizer, said that once all of the festival employees get better and back on their feet, they will begin organizing next year’s Cinco de Mayo parade and festival. “Primero Dios that next year the pandemic is more controlled and we can do our events without worries,” he said.