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Cinco de Mayo Festivals Highlight Mexican Heritage & Culture

Cinco de Mayo is a Mexican holiday that is observed annually across the U.S.  Locally, there are a number of events to mark the occasion, including Cinco de Mayo Festivals this weekend in Pensacola and Destin.

The festivals are being organized by Grace Resendez McCaffery, publisher of La Costa Latina Newspaperand founder of the Hispanic Resource Center.  In Pensacola, it’s McCaffery’s third such event for Cinco de Mayo, and it’s filling a gap locally in terms of a true celebration of Mexican heritage and culture.

“It’s an effort to pull together people who are able to bring together an authentic celebration like we do,” said McCaffery, noting that it’s something they haven’t been able to do in the past. “But, we’re getting better at it and a lot more support from the community as time goes by from people that want to participate, perform, and show their culinary expertise.”

The Cinco de Mayo Festival in Pensacola will be held at Plaza de Luna, downtown, while the event in Destin will be held at the Mattie Kelly Cultural Arts Village. Both will run from 2:00 - 9:00 p.m.

“We’ve got live music and fresh, hot food, authentic Mexican food you won’t find in restaurants,” McCaffery said. “This is good “soul food,” if you will, made by people who are from Mexico and know what they’re doing.”

McCaffery believes the musical entertainment also will be memorable, as they pay tribute to two beloved Mexican-American musicians, Selena and Jenny Rivera.

Aixa Fernandez is an imitator of Selena, whose music and life story was the subject of a 1997 biopic starring Jennifer Lopez. Also, Simona Beltran impersonates Jenny Rivera.

As her star was rising, Selena Quintanilla-Perez was murdered in 1995, just a couple of weeks before her twenty-fourth birthday. Rivera died in a plane crash in 2012 at the age of 43. At the time of her death, Rivera was the most successful woman on the Billboard Latin charts.

“Both of these artists are gone way too soon,” McCaffery said. “But, their music and their legendary status just remains and so, it’s going to be a rare opportunity to see a tribute to both of them on the same stage on the same day.”

In addition to the live music, a group of Mexican folkloric dancers that formed out of a local church in Alabama will perform.

“Mexican folk dance music represents different parts of the country and actually there’s a different dance for each of the 31 states of Mexico. And, one of the most popular, or most recognized, dances is the state of Jalisco, which is what this particular group dances.”

McCaffery says their celebration of Cinco de Mayo is not yet an annual event, although she would like it to be. However, it takes a lot of work and money to make it happen.

“Fortunately, we’ve done a pretty good job in keeping a low budget and still putting on a good show and a good event, but it still takes community support,” said McCaffery of the fact that funding is hard to find for these types of events.

This year the festivals are sponsored in part by Gulf Power Company and the University of West Florida John C. Pace Symposium Series. Also, there will be a small admission fee of $10 to help cover expenses.

McCaffery has found success with other Latino heritage events, with attendance by people from other cultural backgrounds. And, she’s hoping for a similar diverse turnout for Cinco de Mayo.

Credit Larry Amado Photography / Latino Media Gulf Coast, Inc.
Latino Media Gulf Coast, Inc.
Mexican dancers perform at a previous Cinco de Mayo celebration in Pensacola.

“Well that’s the whole point, [it] is to not only celebrate our heritage, but to share it. Because what we’re doing is educating people in things like what is Cinco de Mayo,” McCaffery said, referring to the common misconception that Cinco de Mayo is a celebration of the Mexican Independence Day.

It actually commemorates the Mexican Army’s unlikely defeat of French forces in the Battle of Puebla in 1862.

“It really is a celebration of a community; the way communities come together and help each other.”

Despite the current political debate surrounding immigration from Mexico and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program, McCaffery says their celebration will not be dampened. Ultimately, she thinks the festival might help foster a better understanding of those who are affected on a human level.

“When you get to know someone and get to know about their family, goals and what they do in our community, it makes it a little bit easier for people to open up to the idea of maybe policies that need to be changed so we can make things better for everyone who wants to participate in the community.”

The Cinco de Mayo festivals will be held Saturday at Plaza de Luna in Pensacola and on Sunday at the Mattie Kelly Cultural Arts Village in Destin, from 2:00 to 9:00 p.m.

Sandra Averhart has been News Director at WUWF since 1996. Her first job in broadcasting was with (then) Pensacola radio station WOWW107-FM, where she worked 11 years. Sandra, who is a native of Pensacola, earned her B.S. in Communication from Florida State University.