Where do you go for an authentic Cinco de Mayo celebration? In Detroit,
your answer is to head to the Southwest side – home to the largest
population of Mexicans and other Latinos in the state of Michigan, and
where there is a long and rich history of celebrating the holiday.
Detroit’s best-known annual Cinco de Mayo parade has been sponsored by
The Mexican Patriotic Committee (celebrating its 81st birthday)
for over 40 years. This year’s parade is at noon Sunday, May 7,
starting in Southwest Detroit’s Patton Park and marching 2 ½ miles up
Vernor Highway to Mexicantown’s Clark Park, where festivities continue
until 8 p.m.
The parade unites the Mexican community and others
in a show of Mexican, Chicano and Latino pride, featuring spectacular
dancing low-and-slow Low Riders and tricked out bicycles by those too
young to drive. There are also floats, traditional folkloric dancers,
community groups and local politicians. Cinco de Mayo is a Mexican
holiday, but Boricuas (Puerto Ricans) and Cubanos, among others, also
can be found celebrating being a Latino in America.
the best margaritas, authentic Mexican beer, and authentic Mexican food
are to be found in Mexicantown and throughout Southwest Detroit – at
restaurants such as Taqueria Lupita’s
, Taqueria Mi Pueblo
, and El Nacimiento
to name a few.A little history
But, first things first: What’s your Spanish vocabulary? Hola, adios, amigo, hasta la vista, baby? Cinco de Mayo
literally translated, is “May 5.” What’s so special about that, besides
being as good a date as any for a really great party? Well, here’s a
little history, short version.La Batalla de Puebla
(The Battle of Puebla): Following independence from Spain in 1821, the
Mexican-American War, and the Mexican Civil War, in 1862 Mexico found
itself the target of French colonialism. Napoleon III decided to expand
the French empire into the Americas, and sent troops to invade Mexico.
En route to Mexico’s capital, the long-undefeated French army —
estimated at between 6,000 and 8,000 troops — was met by an scantily
equipped but very determined Mexican and Native American militia
numbering half those of the French. The Mexicans, led by General
Ignacio S. Zaragoza, persevered and won the battle. To this day, Cinco
de Mayo is enthusiastically celebrated in the state of Puebla, Mexico,
where the French army was stopped.
So, what does this mean to
us here in the States? Depends on whom you ask. According to acting
Consul of Mexico in Detroit, Oscar Antonio de la Torre-Amezcua, “There
are three main reasons Cinco de Mayo is celebrated in the United
States.” The first is that General Zaragoza was born in what is now
Goliad County, Texas. In fact, a State Historic Site was established in
the 1960s to commemorate the birthplace of the general who led Mexican
forces to victory in La Batalla de Puebla. The second reason, according
to de la Torre-Amezcua, is that “Cinco de Mayo (offers the opportunity)
to express … heritage with Mexicans,” and to proudly celebrate our
Mexican and Hispanic heritages. The third reason, though surely not
least, is “the Hispanic market in the U.S.,” says the acting Consul.
That market contributes $720 billion annually to the economy, he says.
Among many Americans, Cinco de Mayo has become party, a chance to dine on Mexican or Tex-Mex cuisine and drink cervezas
(beer). However, de la Torre-Amezcua reminds us that in Mexico and to
Mexicans, Cinco de Mayo is “most importantly a civic ceremony … to
remember the memory of those that fought in a historic and heroic
battle.” The battle was historic in terms of defeating the strongest
and most feared military in the world, in establishing a “commitment to
the (Mexican) military,” he says, and in its importance to the
presidency of Mexico’s still favorite President, Benito Juarez. “La
Batalla de Puebla means for the Mexican people the expression of
Mexicans … (to) accomplish our goals.”
With ’60s and
’70s activism and the rise of the Chicano (loosely, U.S.-born citizens
of Mexican descent) movement, others believe that Cinco de Mayo has
become more politicized and a symbol of the rise of Mexican-American
activism and the Latino civil rights movement in the U.S.Celebrate with authenticity
What makes a Cinco de Mayo celebration authentic? Well, dare I say it? A Mexican.
for events that are created by and for primarily Mexicans and Chicanos.
There you will find authentic Mexican food. Anything with a mole
poblano sauce – the culinary symbol of Mexico, made with a variety of
chiles, chocolate (another Mexican original), and other ingredients, is
especially authentic. Specific to the Mexican state of Puebla is the
dish Turkey Poblano – difficult to find in southwest Detroit, but a
great home recipe. Corn-based dishes, such as tamales and enchiladas
are authentic, as is the traditional soup pozole, made with pork and
For dessert: chongos zamoranos, often likened to a sweet
cheese or curd pudding, made with milk, sugar and cinnamon, topped with
syrup. You can find it in specialty markets, such as Southwest
Detroit’s Honeybee – La
More readily available and close approximations might be the desserts
flan or a tres leches (three milk) cake. For great desserts, La Gloria Bakery
(on Bagley) and Mexicantown Bakery
(on Vernor) are best known. La Gloria’s tres leches cakes are to die
for. While there, pick up homemade pan dulce (sweet breads) to munch on
with your morning coffee, or handmade tamales – many of which are now
Beverages? Only one: tequila (not to be confused
with mescal, “the poor man’s tequila” with the worm). Reposado
tequilas that are 100 percent agave are perhaps the most favored.
Locally, the restaurant Agave in Midtown offers the largest variety of
tequilas (they're holding a Cinco de Mayo party May 7 that goes till 2
And what goes best with good food and good drink?
Authentic entertainment: Mariachi and folk music and folk dancing
(ballet folklorico).Where to celebrate
So, now that we have all this figured out, on to the business at hand: Que esta pasando en su barrio?
(What’s happening in your neighborhood)?
In addition to the parade through Southwest Detroit and the big festival, there are several art shows — including Solderaderas: Women and Revolution
at the Bagley Housing Gallery
and Mensaje Latino
at 555 Gallery
in Woodbridge. Click here
for a map and comprehensive list of events going on in Southwest Detroit.
And remember, raise your glass and say, “Salud
Be thankful for a holiday that celebrates civic pride, heritage and
culture — and offers important reasons for great celebrations.
Veronica A. Paiz is executive director of Casa de Unidad cultural center in Southwest Detroit. For more on the center, click here.
Cinco de Mayo Photographs Copyright Myrna Segura-Sample of the Mexicantown Community Development Corp.