Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

Cinco de Mayo at El Centro de la Raza: A Celebration of Culture


Images of chips, salsa, and sombreros may come to mind when many Americans imagine Cinco de Mayo, but few understand the significance behind the annual celebrations.

The Mexican celebration of Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Mexican victory over the French Republic in the Battle of Puebla and is celebrated annually in the state of Puebla, as well as by many people in the United States. The victory was a significant moment in Mexican history, and the Mexican people have a collective sense of pride every Cinco de Mayo due to the surprising victory of May 5, 1862, as Systems Navigator Daniela Lizárraga of El Centro de la Raza, an important cultural center in Beacon Hill, explained.

“It’s a celebration of our resilience,” Lizárraga said. “We won that battle, which was very big because we were outnumbered.”


People of all ages participated in the folkloric dance at “El Centro de la Raza” to celebrate 5 de Mayo.

Although the Mexican army eventually lost the war, leading to the establishment of the short-lived French-Led Second Mexican Empire, the Mexican forces fought bravely despite being undermanned and underequipped.

Despite the sense of national pride surrounding many Cinco de Mayo celebrations, the reason for celebration has been altered and misconstrued in American society.

Americans without Mexican heritage often appropriate Mexican culture on Cinco de Mayo without giving due respect to the culture, all whilst oblivious to the historical and cultural significance Cinco de Mayo commemorates. Intoxication is also a common trend among Americanized Cinco de Mayo parties.

“People think it’s an excuse to drink. It’s not. Remember, it’s history,” El Centro de la Raza Family Support Specialist Cristina Jimenez said.

On the other hand, many consider Cinco de Mayo to be a great opportunity to celebrate Mexican culture, and on May 4 at El Centro de  la Raza, a celebration is exactly what took place.

Over the years, advertisers and companies have capitalized on the popularity of the holiday in order to sell their products, and the commercialization of Cinco de Mayo is an issue that Nayeln Mercado, an attendee and daughter of one of the event’s organizers, believes everyone must be aware of.

“Those things we can’t control, but I think that as individual members of the community, just create awareness within our circle, and that hopefully will ripple out,” Mercado said.

In the plaza behind El Centro de la Raza, a series of performances, including different forms of dance and music, shared and celebrated Mexican culture for community members who gathered.

One such performance was an Aztec Machika, which evoked the distant past, and celebrated the roots of Mexican culture.

“It’s a representation of how it was before colonization came,” Mercado said.


Spectators had the oportunity to dive into authentic Mexican culture during the celebrations.

Mercado, whose mother had a major role in organizing the events at El Centro de la Raza, spoke to the benefit of celebrating one’s culture. “Events like this are important for any culture just to bring awareness to the beautiful diversity there is,” Mercado said.

Though the Battle of Puebla and Cinco de Mayo were central themes at El Centro de la Raza on May 4, Mercado believes that the significance of the day is secondary to the larger celebration of Mexican culture.

“When it comes to celebrating any culture, you don’t have to pick any specific time of the year,” she said. “You don’t have to pick a certain time, but take advantage of those opportunities out there in the community to celebrate any culture.”

Program Director at the José Marti Child Development Center at El Centro de la Raza, Maria Luisa Aguilera, explained the importance of cultural gatherings and celebrations, particularly for young people.

“Part of the curriculum is to participate in the cultural habits as a way that the children can be proud and recognize their own culture. That’s why we are here,” Aguilera said.

The passage of Mexican culture from one generation to the next has successfully spread Mexico’s rich cultural history all over North and Central America, and Seattle is no exception. The children at El Centro de la Raza were active in the cultural traditions taking place, and as Aguilera suggested, seemed to take great pride in their heritage.

The events at El Centro de la Raza on Saturday were part of a celebration of Mexican culture in full force. Vendors selling authentic Mexican food were sprinkled around the courtyard, some attendees wore traditional Mexican dress, and everyone seemed to be enjoying the celebration of Mexican culture that El Centro de la Raza put on.

The strength and resiliency of the Mexican people displayed during the Battle of Puebla is mirrored by the dedication to preserving Mexican culture. That dedication is rarely more evident than during events like Saturday’s at El Centro de la Raza, in which the Battle of Cinco de Mayo was remembered and cultural traditions were cherished.

Jack may be reached at
[email protected]

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Jack Derby, Staff Reporter

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