Around the World: Virtual Cinco de Mayo Celebrations
The annual Cinco de Mayo festivals staged by Mexican communities across the US are always robustly anticipated events that promise lively music and dance presentations, great food and cultural insights. Of course, this year’s festivities will be virtual – and the best part of that news is that you don’t have to plan ahead or actually travel anywhere to to attend and enjoy them.
The holiday actually commemorates the Battle of Puebla, at which Mexican forces were victorious, thereby paving the road to the withdrawal of French forces in 1867, followed by the execution of Mexico’s French-installed Emperor Maximilian and establishment of Mexico as an independent republic.
By the 1930s, Mexican-American communities in the United States established Cinco de Mayo festivities to draw attention to and celebrate Mexican culture. The local festivities quickly became popular events. During the 1950s, corporate sponsors came on board, and the holiday flourished as an annual commercial venture and tourism attraction.
When Cinco de Mayo celebrations are staged in cities across the United States, they’re programmed with lively, colorful and entertaining daytime and evening events, replete with all of the most popular Mexican cultural traditions – the Mariachis wearing their huge sombreros and playing their toe tapping music, folk dancers showing off the best regional routines, long parades with beautifully decorated floats and exuberant revelers dressed up in their finest, most colorful Mexican regional costumes.
Of course, the parade routes are always lined with observers, and with food stalls supplying celebrants with delicious enchiladas, tamales, tacos, nachos and all the other Mexican dishes that have been added to the list of America’s favorite fast foods, and wonderful traditional drinks such as horchata and a rainbow of aguas frescas.
The biggest and best known Cinco de Mayo celebration in the U.S. is in Los Angeles, where the holiday has been observed since 1863. The initial Los Angeles celebration was organized as a show of solidarity with Mexico, then still struggling against French rule.
The Los Angeles Cinco de Mayo celebrations actually start at the end of April with the Fiesta Broadway, an outdoor party that fills an area of twenty downtown blocks centering around historic Olvera Street, near City Hall. Also known as El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument, Olvera Street is location of the original Spanish settlement in the city. It has beautiful old historic buildings now filled with shops selling artisanal goods and souvenirs.
Under ordinary circumstances, you could sign up for a walking tour lead by Las Angelitas del Pueblo, but as present, COVID-19 has cancelled those tours along with this year’s lively Cinco de Mayo programs. Instead, take a virtual guided tour of Olvera Street on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-pui6rDHaI4, following up with a longer walk through at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YKoaIZq7XtY
For the culmination of the celebration, on Cinco de Mayo, Olvera Street is decked out with red, white and green flags and colorful paper banners. There are Mariachis and other street musicians, lots of dancing, storytelling, speeches (mostly in Spanish) delivered by officials and celebrity appearances. About half a million revelers crowd the streets, and it’s great fun. You can view a mariachi performance on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DPxT9qw0HZg
Of course food is a big part of the celebrations, and this year you can improvise at home with home delivery from your favorite local Mexican restaurant, along with your favorite Mexican beer or personal Margarita recipe.
For a dedicated virtual celebration of Cinco de Mayo, tune in for Cleveland’s online festivities. Organized by Rey and Patricia Esparza and the Cleveland Mexican Cultural Committee, programmed online celebrations are to include people preparing traditional Mexican dishes, people doing art craft activities, videos from mariachis and other activities. The Committee plans for the digital broadcast to last from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. on May 5th via their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/MexicanCommittee/?pageid=573223572773017&ftentidentifier=2641879875907366&padding=0
With few exceptions, American celebrations of Cinco de Mayo make little or no mention of the actual event -- that hard-won Battle of Puebla -- that initiated the holiday in the first place, and most Americans are unaware of the historic significance of the day. You might expect that the day is commemorated differently in Mexico. In fact, it actually has less significance there – except in Puebla, some 70 miles southeast of Mexico City. On Cinco de Mayo, this charming colonial city stages a brassy military parade to mark the day, and there are festive battle reenactments and a Mexican Air Force flyover. You can see the Puebla reenactment, which looks more like a Mardi Gras parade than an actual battle, on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B_2J7mm1UqQ
To get a glimpse of Cinco de Mayo celebrations in New York, Chicago and other cities, check out Getty Images’ videos at https://www.gettyimages.co.uk/videos/may-5th?phrase=may%205th&sort=mostpopular
Happy Cinco de Mayo in the safety of your home and, while celebrating, mark the date in your travel calendar for next year. You have plenty of time to choose a lively Cinco de Mayo destination and book a great travel deal that will get you there.