27th Cinco de Mayo festival has big turnout

Seventeen-year-old Lisa Medina, left, and Andrea Medina perform a traditional dance during a performance by La Mexicana Ballet Folklorico at Saturday’s Cinco de Mayo celebration downtown.

With plumes of peacock feathers on their heads and decked in shiny, gold-embroidered costumes, members of the dance troupe Ihuicatl awed audiences by moving to ancient Aztec rhythms Saturday at the annual Cinco de Mayo festival.

The group practices all year long to perform dances for Virgin of Guadalupe day on Dec. 12, and the invitation to dance for the downtown Grand Junction festival was too good to pass up.

“In Mexico, there’s always different Aztec dancers everywhere in all the towns,” dancer Susana Ortega said. “People who join are promising to owe something to the Virgin of Guadalupe.”

For 21-year-old Ortega, the “manda,” or promise, was fulfilled after she was told by a doctor she may have cancer of the throat. She had surgery to remove the lump from her throat, and thankfully it wasn’t cancerous. She now is upholding her manda to dance and continue on the traditions.

Hundreds of people flooded the celebration to participate in customs old and new. Onlookers winced as the winner of a jalapeno-eating contest munched seven of the fiery peppers in a half hour. Children were delighted with pony rides and jumping on an inflatable playground. Even some politicians staffed booths to bend the ear of celebrants as the sweet smell of fried breads wafted through the crowds.

In its 27th year, the festival is one of two fundraisers for college scholarships, mostly for young Latinos, that are distributed by the Latino-Anglo Alliance. The group generally collects between $12,000 and $15,000 a year from the annual festival and a golf tournament that is slated for the fall.

Organizer Herman Lucero said turnout this year seemed good, especially compared to last year when rainstorms put a damper on the event. More attendees means more people contributing to the large plastic jars placed out on vendors’ booths to collect money for the college-bound. Those jars filled quickly with large bills.

“It’s really nice to see people back out because it’s spring. It’s typical of Hispanic culture to have tight, family-orientated events,” he said. “It’s always worth it when you see kids get the scholarships.”

Cinco de Mayo is often incorrectly referred to as Mexico’s Day of Independence. That day is celebrated Sept. 16.

Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Mexican army’s victory over the French army in the Mexican state of Puebla on May 5, 1862.


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