Darlington’s annual Cinco de Mayo festival, which traditionally takes place on the first Saturday in May, this year is scheduled to happen on Saturday, May 4.
Started in 2007, this will be the celebration’s seventh year running, and it has really grown since it’s initial year, according to Tony Ruesga, a key planner of the event who was instrumental in getting the celebration started.
This year the celebration will feature the same traditional family friendly activities that have become popular over the past several years.
The celebration will kick off at noon at the festival grounds with an opening ceremony performance by the Darlington Elementary/Middle School student choir. The basketball and soccer tournaments and booths will be set up and ongoing throughout the day until 6 p.m. along with the children’s games, inflatable rides, a clown appearance and face painting for the kids.
From 3-4 p.m. will be the salsa tasting for the best homemade salsa contest. Those participating should bring their salsa to the brown ticket booth by noon the day of the festival. People will be able to vote on their favorite salsa and prizes will be awarded to the one with the most votes.
The piñata breaking will also be from 3-4 p.m. followed by the talent show from 4-6 p.m.
For musical entertainment there will be a salsa band performance featuring “Soulsa” from 1-3 p.m., music by DJ Zyby from 7-8 p.m. and then a dance from 8 p.m. to midnight featuring bands “Complize Musical & Estrella Latina.”
The idea of Darlington having its own Cinco de Mayo celebration first came about when Darlington’s Chamber of Commerce approached Ruesga looking for a way to incorporate the growing Hispanic population into the community and possibly creating an event that the entire community could participate in together.
Ruesga thought that Cinco de Mayo would be a good opportunity to do this. That first year in 2007, organizers started with barely anything in the way of a budget or plan, but after a few years seemed to get the hang of it and now “we have it down to a science,” said Ruesga.
“I think it’s really helped with relations between Caucasians and Hispanics, to get them to better understand each other, “ said Ruesga. “The point was to bridge a culture gap and it has worked out well,” he added.
For the first three years of the festival, Reusga explained that they got a lot of help and support from the school district including grant funding. The Darlington Schools were able to apply for a grant that was meant to help integrate the two populations within the community: Hispanic and Caucasian. They decided to put that grant funding towards the Cinco de Mayo celebration to help bring the community together.
Different organizations, businesses and groups as well as some individuals help make the event possible by sponsoring the celebration. “We started with 18 sponsors and now we have over 50,” said Ruesga.
Ruesga also explained that whatever profit is made from the celebration is donated back to the community in one way or another.
In the past they have given money for the renovation of the festival grounds, supported the Veterans Memorial and donated the benches and crosswalk signs that sit along Main Street. This year the sales from the Cinco de Mayo t-shirts will be donated to the fairgrounds in the name of Colin Barnes.
Another way that Cinco de Mayo gives back is by sponsoring two scholarships in the amount of $250. “That’s the most important thing in my opinion, “ said Ruesga.
Students applying for the scholarships are asked to write an essay explaining the importance of diversity and cultural awareness and how it affects their lives as well as the future.
“The only way to change people’s thoughts is with the future generations,” explained Ruesga. “Having kids understand cultural diversity is important with the way the face of the country is changing,” he added.
When the Cinco de Mayo festival first started in Darlington, there was some hesitation and doubt from some people about accepting it. “In a predominant Caucasian community, there was some racial tension initially, but that has ironed itself out,” explained Ruesga. “A lot of people look forward to it now.”
Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico’s Independence day as many people mistakenly believe. The fifth of May actually commemorates the Mexican army’s 1862 victory over France at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War (1861-1867).
This victory of the Mexicans kept Emperor Napoleon III from supplying the confederate rebel army during the American Civil War, which was taking place at the same time. Just 14 months after the battle of Puebla took place, the Unites States crushed the confederates at Gettysburg, essentially ending the Civil War.
For Mexico, the battle of Puebla was not a major strategic win in the overall war against the French, but it was a great symbolic victory and bolstered the resistance movement. Six years after the battle, thanks in part to military support and political pressure from the United States, which was finally in a position to aid its besieged neighbor after the end of the Civil War—France withdrew.
According to Ruesga, the battle of Puebla and what happened after is a representation of the Caucasian and Hispanic cultures working together, even if they didn’t know it at the time. “The celebration of that cooperation is what we are trying to promote with Darlington’s Cinco de Mayo event,” he said.