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    New festival to celebrate ties to Mexico

    Artisans, musicians and dance troupes will travel from Mexico to Clearwater for the city's Cinco de Mayo festival Saturday.

    By CHRISTINA HEADRICK, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published April 29, 2002

    CLEARWATER -- The organizers of a new Clearwater Cinco de Mayo Celebration this Saturday in Coachman Park say they want to bring people together to enjoy the heritage and rich cultures of Mexico and have some fun.

    The celebration from noon until midnight will include performances by Latin dance bands and folkloric ballet troupes from Mexico, a craft sale by Mexican artisans, plenty of food and activities for kids. Alcohol won't be sold.

    "Basically, what we want to promote is a day of good entertainment and fun for families," said Lourdes Mayorga, president of the Mexican Council of Tampa Bay, which is organizing the event with the city. "It's going to be a combined cultural event, and everyone is invited."

    Of course, this isn't how Cinco de Mayo -- often confused with Mexican Independence Day, which is in September -- is usually celebrated in Mexico.

    In Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is a holiday devoted to patriotic speeches and reflections on Mexico's struggle to free itself from the domination of foreign powers. The holiday has a tone similar to that of Presidents' Day here in America, Mayorga said.

    The day commemorates the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, in which the outnumbered and outgunned Mexican Army defeated a French army trying to make Mexico part of Napoleon's empire. Despite the defeat, the French eventually won a short occupation.

    In the United States, Cinco de Mayo celebrations of Mexican heritage became common during the 1960s and 1970s as part of the Chicano rights movement. And since then, the day has become an adopted American holiday, much the same way that St. Patrick's Day is a phenomenon here that it never was in Ireland.

    In recent years, large Cinco de Mayo festivals have sprung up across the country. Corporations such as Anheuser-Busch and Hallmark Cards have promoted Mexico's "fifth of May" holiday as a time to party. The association of the day with drinking has even prompted some Mexican-American groups to encourage people to celebrate sober, with pride.

    In Clearwater, where the Mexican population grew from about 800 people to nearly 5,000 over the past decade, Saturday should be a time for a community to gather and enjoy a taste of home.

    The event is co-sponsored by the city of Clearwater as part of its annual Fun 'n Sun Festival. The annual Fun 'n Sun Illuminated Night Parade, which begins at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and meanders through downtown, will end at the celebration in Coachman Park downtown.

    The day's entertainment will include music ranging from mariachi ballads to cumbia dance tunes. Several bands are traveling here from Mexico and Texas, and the rest are local. During set breaks, local deejays will play popular Latin music.

    Two folkloric dance groups from the state of Hidalgo, Mexico -- where many Clearwater Mexican immigrants are from -- are also traveling here to perform. The Ballet Otomangue, a children's dance troupe, will perform at 1 and 7:30 p.m. The Ballet Folklorico Maquilxochitl will dance at 2:30 and 10:15 p.m.

    Because the Mexican Council wants the day to be family friendly, there will be an area for children's activities, Mayorga said. She said that face painting, a caricatures artist, a clown and a "Moon Walk" where kids can play are planned.

    Vendors will offer American, Cuban, Mexican and Salvadoran food and soft drinks, Mayorga said. And around the park, about 40 artisans who are traveling from Mexico will have crafts for sale ranging from silver jewelry to pottery.

    The Mexican Council of Tampa Bay raised money to pay for hotel rooms and meals for the artisans, musicians and dance troupes, Mayorga said. The Mexican government will pay for the cost of their trip here.

    The Mexican Council had wanted to bring many of the groups that are coming for Cinco de Mayo to Clearwater for the annual Mexican Independence Day festival last September. However, the group canceled the event as a show of support for the United States in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

    Mayorga predicted there will be a good turnout on Saturday, since Fiesta Mexicana Radio-AM 1550 and Univision Canal 64 are sponsors of the event and have been advertising the day's activities throughout seven area counties.

    Other sponsors include Taquerias Mi Mexico, Tiendas el Noa Noa, GEICO Auto Insurance, Mexico Lindo Super Store, Jarritos, Latino Home Loans, Taqueria Los Amigos, Macarena Travels, Vazquez Veggies, Panaderia Cinco de Mayo, Econo Service and La Gringa immigration services.

    It is the first time there has been such a large Cinco de Mayo celebration in Clearwater, said city auditor Robin Gomez, who was born in Hidalgo and often acts as liaison for the city to the Mexican community. Gomez said that various social services and groups trying to reach out to area Hispanics will likely have information available for people at the event.

    And for anyone who is curious, Gomez said, "I think this event can promote an understanding of another country."

    -- Times news researcher John Martin contributed to this report.

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