by Ellen Daniels
Denton Live Spring/Summer 2005
You know it’s spring when certain signs inevitably appear. The first bluebonnets. Azaleas in bloom. And Cinco de Mayo comes to Denton Civic Center Park — bringing the spirit of fiesta and the best homemade tamales you’ve ever tasted. Bursting with color, dance, music, art, and food, the festival honors Mexico’s underdog victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla on — you got it — May 5. One of the largest Cinco de Mayo festivals in North Texas, Denton’s is the place to celebrate. More than 12,000 people attend each year, enjoying entertainment on three stages, a vibrant parade, kids’ activities, the La Reina pageant, a championship soccer tournament, and vendors selling everything from jewelry to aguas frescas (fresh fruit squeezed with water and ice).
SPICING THINGS UP
Denton’s Cinco de Mayo festival grows larger every year. Former committee Chairwoman Nicole Vázquez was instrumental in broadening the event, tapping not just wider Hispanic influences like Latin jazz and Caribbean salsa merengue but others as seemingly unrelated as clogging. “What I tried to do — and it’s what makes our celebration very ethnic and unique — was make it more multicultural,” Vázquez says. “The majority of the people who come to Cinco are of Mexican descent, so I tried to provide Celtic dancing, ballet, and other forms of dance they weren’t as familiar with.” An inclusive, educational mindset differentiates the Denton festival from others, and the learning goes two ways. Not only does Cinco de Mayo give the non-Hispanic community a chance to learn about Hispanic culture, it gives recent immigrants a chance to learn about the arts of other cultures.
To help the festival grow, Vázquez used her experience fund-raising for the United Way of Denton County and began writing grants. Her first proposal netted $16,000, money the committee poured into expansion by hiring top-quality musical talent, which in turn attracted even more vendors, sponsors, and visitors. Vázquez also pushed to develop other aspects of the festival, adding arts and crafts vendors, the popular soccer tournament, and expanding the children’s activities. When the event spread throughout the park, attendance skyrocketed.
WHAT, AND WHO, YOU’LL SEE THERE
From charros doing rope tricks on horseback to serenading mariachis, it all kicks off when floats, marchers, costumed dancers, bands, cars bedecked with paper flowers, and crime-fighting vehicles begin winding through downtown in the city’s most colorful parade. Grab a flower for your hair and toddle over to the park next, where kids have their own workshop area, and they can make crafts, get their faces painted, and chase piñatas hourly. The La Reina (Queen of Cinco de Mayo) pageant competition for teenage girls also gets under way, and the hotly contested soccer tournament, where top teams from Denton’s adult leagues square off for a coveted trophy. The stages showcase Mexican music like mariachi and Tejano as well as ballet folklórico and student performance groups like Texas Woman’s University’s International Folk Dancers. Stroll the main expanse and you’ll find art booths and vendors selling fluffy Mexican pastries and Tex-Mex foods, plus corn-on-the-cob, sausages, and cotton candy. Everywhere you’ll find brilliant colors — reds, oranges, yellows, greens — and a bountiful array of handmade backdrops and painted depictions of the Battle of Puebla, done by the local high school students. “Someway, somehow, there are always festive colors woven in,” says Vázquez. “What distinguishes the festival is the culture — it’s so full of color and life.”
Cinco de Mayo is the ultimate family event, drawing generations from great-grandparents down to babes-in-arms. Families bring picnics, umbrellas, lawn chairs, even grills, and treat Civic Center Park as their own back yard, making for an event that feels, well, just like family. As long as you don’t bring in glass containers, it’s OK to bring your own food and alcohol.
The weather from year to year can vary, but the first weekend in May can get warm, so make sure that colorful outfit you wear isn’t too confining or you’ll get muy caliente.
LEND A HAND
If it sounds like fun, it’s even more so when you’re part of the planning process. The Cinco de Mayo committee is looking for anyone who is interested in helping the celebration continue or who may have new ideas on how to improve the festival. “No suggestion is too outrageous,” says committee member John Cabrales. “If someone really has a passion to enhance the festival, contact us and let us know, and we’ll be glad to invite you to a meeting.” To learn more about volunteering or the festival in general, visit the festival’s Web site at dentoncinco.org.