Tamales and horchata vendors lined the courtyards at Santa Cruz Mission State Historic Park for Cinco de Mayo where about 50 people gathered to listen to a well-practiced youth brass band from Oaxaca.
The event aimed to promote education and reclamation of the Mexican holiday — which was largely appropriated by American culture. Senderos Santa Cruz, California State Parks and Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks teamed up to organize the event.
Jorge Savala, the main organizer for the event from Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks, said educating the public was a huge motivation for this year’s event.
“As a kid, even I thought it was about Mexican Independence Day […], but it’s really about the Battle of Puebla,” Savala said. “Here in the United States, it’s turned into a celebration of Coronas and tequila — so this is an opportunity to teach the public and the youth about what Cinco de Mayo really means.”
The Battle of Puebla occurred in 1862 when the Mexican army prevailed in an unlikely victory when the French tried to occupy all Mexican land from Veracruz to Mexico City. The victory brought forth a significant morale boost for the Mexican people and provided a sense of national unity.
The event hosted Banda del Centro de Integración Social from Oaxaca, Mexico that came to the U.S. in an exchange program organized by the founders of Senderos in 2001. Senderos founders Fe Silva-Robles and Nereida Robles Vasquez often emphasize Oaxaca culture in their events because of their cultural connection to their hometown.
Senderos board member Daisy Estrada said activities like these are central to the organization as a nonprofit that offers free music, dance classes and tutoring for Latinx youth to succeed in their education.
In addition to crafts and music, educational opportunities were abundant at the event — including a tour of the Santa Cruz Historic Mission and a teach-in about Cinco de Mayo by Senderos members.
UC Santa Cruz students from Nido de Lenguas and Hermanos Unidos also attended the event. Nido de Lenguas, a linguistics group on campus, hosted a pop-up booth where attendees can learn more about the indigenous languages of Oaxaca, the southern coastal region of Mexico.
“Oaxaca is actually home to dozens of languages. And the point of the pop-ups are to raise awareness that these languages exist,” said Maziar Toosarvandani, one of the leaders of Nido de Lenguas.
Senderos will be hosting two other events in May, the first being a street Fiesta downtown on May 12 to promote Guelaguetza cultural activities and Oaxacan food. They will also be hosting Guelaguetza, a Oaxacan cultural festival, on May 20 at San Lorenzo Park. There will be a $10 charge for the latter event.