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A day of remembrance

For these farmworkers in the field, Cinco de Mayo is much more than a day of festivities.

By SAUNDRA AMRHEIN
Published May 5, 2007


Agustin Lara, 3, with a hat almost as big as he is, walks in a parade at the Good Samaritan Mission in Balm during a Cinco de Mayo celebration on Friday. The school held the observance a day early because classes would be out on Saturday.
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[Times photo: Skip O'Rourke]
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[Times photo: Skip O'Rourke]
Jennifer Arredondo, 5, concentrates on her moves as she tries a jarabe dance at the Good Samaritan Mission in Balm.

BALM -- Farmworker Lucina Lopez picked peppers early Friday morning. But then she took a break, for something quite important.

At the Good Samaritan Mission, her 5-year-old daughter, Jennifer Arredondo, wore the most beautiful white dress imaginable, a cascade of ruffles and lace.

Lopez watched as Jennifer beamed. The little girl's hands clutched the cloth skirt and fanned it as far as her arms could reach. Jennifer, her hair in a dainty bun, swayed to the left, to the right, leading with a fold of fabric, shuffling her feet to the trumpets of the jarabe music playing on the stereo.

Her smiling moon of a face crumpled for a split second as she looked over to make sure her mom was watching -- and, of course, she was.

"Smile, " Lopez called out. "Smile."

Some people will celebrate Cinco de Mayo today with cervezas and two-for-one margaritas.

But in a quiet corner of Hillsborough County on Friday, others started with costumes and history.

On a patch of land surrounded by farms and the concrete block homes of field workers, Jennifer joined three dozen other children from Good Samaritans day care and prekindergarten program for a morning of pageantry.

Teachers decorated the cafeteria with red, green and white streamers. They hung a poster board with pictures of the city of Puebla. There, on May 5, 1862, Mexican soldiers, outnumbered 2-to-1, defeated French troops. The victory likely headed off a showdown between the French and the United States, embroiled in the Civil War.

Outside, the children lined up behind a pickup truck decorated in a mission banner. The truck piped out brassy Mexican dance music.

The children squealed for mothers with cameras.

"Vamos! Empiezale!" one teacher shouted, to get the parade moving.

Someone put the truck in gear, and it inched forward.

Girls in satiny skirts followed, lifting their hems above the dirt. They held hands with boys in straw hats and red kerchiefs. The boys' tiny cowboy boots made triangles in the sand. One struggled to level a sombrero that seemed as wide as his arm span.

Moms, some still in work clothes, snapped pictures, flitting around the slow-moving cluster like fireflies.

"Viva Mexico!" yelled a teacher.

"Viva Mexico!" the children yelled.

"Viva America!" yelled the teacher.

"Viva America!" the children yelled.

They inched along the dirt driveway, then back along its other side, before going indoors to eat.

Lopez returned to the pepper field.

History had been remembered. It was time to go back to work.

Saundra Amrhein can be reached at (813) 661-2441 or amrhein@sptimes.com.

[Last modified May 5, 2007, 03:41:15]


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