Celebration is about more than Cinco de Mayo

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Kayla Bunge
Sunday, May 4, 2008
— With a colorful swirl of skirts and quick staccato steps, three couples whirl to the vibrant sounds of mariachi music.

In la danza de la culebra, the dance of the snake, the women swirl their skirts to send the snakes slithering away until the men beat them away with their straw hats.

Alvaro Olvera of Janesville watched with pride as Ballet Folklórico Tenoch, a dance group from Beloit, performed Saturday at the ninth annual Cinco de Mayo celebration sponsored by the YWCA.

While it’s not quite the fiesta that it would have been in Mexico, the annual event is an opportunity for local Hispanics to celebrate their heritage, said Evelyn Woodring, director of the YWCA’s Hispanic Outreach Program.

Nationally, the debate over immigration reform continues, but with much less fervor than a few years ago, and the perceived anxiety and fear among many Hispanics was undetectable Saturday.

Allison Hokinson, community relations director at the YWCA, said that’s because the community has built trust with the local Hispanic population.

“Trust is a big issue for the Hispanic culture,” she said. “And once they feel comfortable, once they feel safe, they share that.”

Though still small, the Hispanic population in Wisconsin is growing quickly. The population more than doubled between 1990 and 2000, and recent census figures show it grew about 40 percent since 2000. The latest data puts the number of Hispanics in the state at about 272,000.

Rock County has one of the largest Hispanic populations in the state because of all the farm and factory jobs available here.

That’s what brought 30-year-old Carmen Puentes to Janesville eight years ago. Her older sister moved here from Rosarito, Mexico, to get a job, and Puentes and her brother followed.

She said she generally feels welcome here.

“I’ve never had problems with the people here,” Puentes said. “I’ve heard it’s better other places, but here it’s decent.”

Olvera, 40, who moved to Janesville 11 years ago, said he, too, feels welcome here. He said Janesville is a “peaceful” place.

The annual Cinco de Mayo celebration is but one facet of the Hispanic Outreach Program, which aims to remove barriers that prevent Hispanics from fully participating in the community, Woodring said. The program helps people at whatever stage they’re at, whether it’s to learn English or to obtain U.S. citizenship.


Cinco de Mayo, Spanish for “fifth of May,” commemorates an initial victory on May 5, 1862, of the Mexican army over invading French forces in the Battle of Puebla.

Although the Mexican army eventually was defeated, the Battle of Puebla is a symbol of Mexican unity and patriotism. With this victory, Mexico demonstrated to the world that it was willing to defend itself against foreign intervention.

Cinco de Mayo is a day of national pride in Mexico, but it is not as important as Mexican Independence Day on Sept. 16.

In the United States, Cinco de Mayo has taken on a significance beyond that in Mexico. It has become a day to celebrate the Mexican culture.

Last updated: 9:13 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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