It may be a day early from its intended namesake, but come Saturday Klamath Falls will be filled with lively food, fun, music and celebrations all in the name of Hispanic pride when Cinco de Mayo (which in Spanish translates to “the fifth of May”) activities commence.
Embodying the spirit of the celebration every year is the annual Miss Cinco de Mayo award, a scholarship program given to one Latino student in the Klamath Basin who is making a difference in the community. This year those honors are bestowed upon Samantha Recino, a senior at Mazama High School.
Recino, a first-generation American born and raised in Klamath Falls, has participated in past years’ Cinco de Mayo celebrations as a dancer, and is excited to represent the Hispanic Advisory Board in the community celebration in a bigger role than her past involvement. She is the Associated Student Body Secretary at Mazama, and has participated in FBLA and numerous community service opportunities.
“I grew up every year going to the Cinco de Mayo parade, and every year seeing Miss Cinco de Mayo I always said I wanted to be her,” recalled Recino. “I would see who they chose speaking in front of crowds about what it all meant to her, and every year I said I wanted to do that. When I got the call back that I was chosen I could not have been happier.”
As has become a steadfast and much-beloved tradition, a parade will travel down Main Street starting at 11 a.m. at 11th Street and culminating at Veterans Memorial Park, where free family-friendly activities will continue throughout the day until 5 p.m. Now in its 16th year, the Klamath Falls Cinco de Mayo celebration is a welcoming opportunity to revel in an upbeat and fun atmosphere regardless of heritage, much like how everyone can all be a little bit Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.
Activities will include live music, various giveaways, vendors, a community soccer game, children’s games, a bounce house, face-painting, and of course the always beloved Cinco de Mayo dancers. The dancers are a collective of youth who have spent months preparing costumes and choreographed traditional Mexican dances, ranging in age from three years old to high school and college students.
Clad in traditional garments that represent different regions of Mexico, the dancers have meticulously rehearsed several nights a week at Klamath Community College for months in preparation for Saturday. The dances to be performed are a cultural representation, but those participating are a melting pot of various backgrounds residing in the Klamath Basin, all eager to participate in a celebration that stands for much more than just Mexican pride. Prior to the big day, the group will offer a tease to Cinco de Mayo festivities by traveling around Klamath Falls on Friday dancing at several locales.
In addition to leading the parade on Saturday, Recino receives a $1,000 scholarship to assist in her higher education pursuits. She plans to attend either Western Oregon University or Southern Oregon University to pursue a career in education. Recino was chosen, according to event coordinator Dora Hoffmeister, for her upstanding example as a role model to young girls, particularly as a past participant among the Cinco de Mayo dancing troupe.
Her decision to pursue education comes from her personal experiences as a student, where Recino often struggled on assignments that differed from her peers’ results in part due to a different cultural background. She explained it wasn’t until high school that she found a mentor with Latino heritage who could help her adjust, and now she wants to do the same for future students who may also have difficulty adapting.
“To me Cinco de Mayo is about inclusiveness, regardless of race and ethnicity, everyone can go celebrate with family and friends,” said Recino. “I love the family vibes it gives, it’s all very welcoming. I love seeing the Latino community coming together as a whole, because we don’t get that a lot. Seeing everyone come in from Tulelake and Bonanza and all around, it’s just so heartwarming to see everyone together.”
This year marks the first time event organizers were able to acquire several grants to cover the cost of the festival, which will also be used in part as scholarship funds for Recino. Hoffmeister credits new people being added to the Hispanic Advisory Board for the grant funding.
The holiday’s meaning and perspective has changed over time. While a more traditional celebration in Mexico that receives only modest recognition, in the United States Cinco de Mayo has come to generalize a national day of Latino pride. The holiday carries a bit of a misnomer, it is in fact not to celebrate Mexican Independence as many believe (that comes in September), but rather Cinco de Mayo is a remembrance of an unlikely military victory by Mexican forces over French colonialists at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862.
In Mexico the holiday is a big deal mostly only in the Puebla region, according to Recino, but in the United States it has come to be a time where everyone can show a little Latino spirit regardless of heritage.
“We say it’s to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, but to me it really is just a good time to get together to eat good food, listen to good music, and see the proud traditions that we are a part of,” said Hoffmeister. “We are not just celebrating one thing, we want to get the community together to come have a good time.”
In an era of harsh political discourse, where often immigrants and Mexicans specifically have been scapegoated for societal ills; Recino sees a fun, positive community-wide celebration for Cinco de Mayo as being a great unifying effort to help mend perceived divisions.
“I definitely see it as a positive for people who aren’t Latino to come celebrate and see the joy it brings, and that Hispanics aren’t how they are often being portrayed these days,” said Recino. “Yes, there are a few bad people in every race, but you can’t justify hating an entire culture by the actions of a few. This is a chance to see the real culture, filled with people with big smiles and a willingness to help. The community I have grown up in is very conservative and sometimes close-minded, so little things like this can have a big impact in showing positive cultural awareness.”
The Cinco de Mayo dancers will perform at Veterans Memorial Park at 12:30 and 3:30 p.m. during Saturday’s celebration. As Miss Cinco de Mayo, Recino will participate in the parade, provide a speech during the Veterans Memorial Park festivities, and serve as a bolo – a Hispanic tradition she described as a “human piñata” offering up money and candy to little kids.
The Cinco de Mayo celebrations are smoke, drug, and alcohol free.
The Cinco de Mayo festivities serve the community beyond simply offering a day of fun. The Klamath-Lake Counties Food Bank will be collecting food donations at the Cinco de Mayo festival, in an effort to stock up supplies for summer. Food donation barrels will be provided for non-perishable food items.
Residents are strongly encouraged to bring food donations such as canned meats, cereals, peanut butter, jelly, fruit cups, granola bars, macaroni and cheese and more kid-friendly items for what is being declared the “PB&J Project” to help feed over 3,200 kids in Southern Oregon whose parents struggle to feed them during summer months with no school lunches.