There was nothing but a slight – and silence. I stood idly on the corner of 15th and Mifflin streets on April 27 like a suburban lamb tossed into South Philadelphia territory.
And this parade was nowhere to be found. Turns out the Carnival de Puebla parade’s starting point moved about eight blocks North of that desolate corner since last year, and they started promptly at 1 p.m. – I had some running to do.
Gaining ever-closer, the melodies of mariachi music bounced off of row homes. It was a disorienting bout of sound, leaking through rows of streets that all looked exactly the same.
At last, catching the tail end of the parade that wrapped around the corner of 15th Street and Washington Avenue, the colors came to life.
In it’s eighth year, the Carnival de Puebla drew together members of the Mexican-American community in the nation’s largest Cinco de Mayo festival. Over 300 members of the parade dressed in traditional gear, some coming as far as Boston to celebrate. Oversized masks, ornate robes and decorative weapons were a colorful splash to Philadelphia’s reenactment of the Battle of Puebla.
This battle, which is thought to have taken place around the fifth of May in 1862, is the reason Cinco de Mayo is celebrated. The battle took place in the city of Puebla during the French intervention of Mexico, and the Mexican army prevailed. All parties present in the battle were represented through different costuming in the parade, including the Indidos, Zacapoaxatlas, Zarpadores and Turkos people.
“It’s about the tradition from our grandfathers, and their father’s fathers,” Rubin Minor, representing the Zacapoaxtlas people with his costume, said. “This is from a long time ago when everyone wanted Mexico to rise to power. That’s why we make these clothes, to celebrate what our families fought for.”
The city of Puebla is the only place in Mexico that actually celebrates Cinco de Mayo. Over the years, it has turned into an American drinking holiday, comparable to St. Patricks day. Margarita specials at local bars, and a strong emphasis on tex-mex are the commercialized celebration of Cinco de Mayo, straying wildly from its Mexican roots.
Philadelphia has placed an emphasis on celebrating the traditional culture and has declared May 1-5 Mexican Week in the city. The Mexican flag was raised over City Hall in order to compliment educational speeches, concerts and Mexican Restaurant week that city officials have arranged in celebration.
Immersing yourself in the Mexican culture is the easiest way to take part in the celebration of pride and heritage the Puebla people came together to celebrate.
Right in the middle of the action, it wasn’t necessary to have an understanding of Spanish – which the entire parade and after party at Sacks playground were conducted in.
It was the interaction between community members that told the story.
Representing dueling sides during a battle harbored no hostility, like brothers, the parade characters would sword fight, then laugh, hug and move on their merry ways.
Even the women and children were dressed the part. In Mexico, the Carnival de Puebla parade is thought to be too dangerous for women and children. Guns aren’t used for merely decoration, but rather loaded with gun powder and a very loud bang. Philadelphia’s take on the parade soften things up, opening the doors for everyone to come out and celebrate.
“It’s good energy,” Juan Marano, festival attendee, said. “It seems like everybody is having fun in a nice crowd. I think it’s a great thing that the city gave us the opportunity to gather together and celebrate our heritage in the South Philadelphia community.”
Brianna Spause can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.