Celebrating history, celebrating each other: Cinco de Mayo festival brings community together

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Saturday, May 3, 2014

DELAVAN—Some things are universal: Food on a stick, face painting and balloon animals.

On Saturday, Tower Park in downtown Delavan was filled with the sounds of vendors hawking their wares, the squeal of children in bounce houses and Mexican folk music.

The event was the city's annual celebration of Cinco de Mayo, a festival that marks an unexpected military victory in 1862. In Delavan, the festival also has become a celebration of two cultures that are becoming more interconnected.

“Typically, Cinco de Mayo is misunderstood as Mexican Independence Day,” said Ray Paez, a minister at East Delavan Baptist Church, and a bilingual classroom and office aide for the Delavan-Darien School District. “Cinco de Mayo celebrates a victory by a heavily outmatched Mexican Army.”

That victory was the start of a chain of events that led to independence.

“Cinco de Mayo is really more of an American celebration,” Paez said.

For Paez, the day allows “Latinos and Anglos to intermingle, to be exposed to each others' cultures.”

A stroll down the crowded center of the event revealed what the two cultures have in common.

At a face-painting booth, kids lined up to get full-face masks—not just a single heart or flower. Some children selected masks in the style of the Mexican wrestlers, the luchadors. Other children preferred masks from the Day of the Dead that feature a skull-like design embellished with flowers and other, cheerful decorations.

Stalls sold sopes, empanadas, tortas, tacos and alambres cabezas—shish kabobs. There also was a booth that sold deep-fried Oreos and funnel cakes.

The two cultures met over food on a stick. Usually, food on a stick is thought of as fair food—the Wisconsin State lists more than 50 “foods on a stick” including bacon and eggs on a stick.

At the Cinco de Mayo celebration, a booth was offering mangos on a stick. The fruit was peeled, notched and sprinkled with lime juice and a spice mix that smelled of chili and lemons.

At the end of a long row of food vendors, kids swarmed around a single clown making balloon animals as fast as he could.

Paez said that the Delavan-Darien School District has worked hard to break down the boundaries between the communities by reaching out to Spanish-speaking families.

In addition, as the children get to know each other, so do the families.

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