Celebration aims to unite communities

America and Mexico -- two countries born on the backs of citizen soldiers fighting for independence. The two countries soon will celebrate a holiday of significance, a holiday of freedom.

As the debate about border policies and the status of illegal aliens residing in the United States continues, it's easy to pick apart the differences between the countries. But, as history attests, at least their origins share similar roots of fighting oppression.

Today, millions of Americans will shed their differences, albeit temporarily, and celebrate Cinco de Mayo, one of Mexico's two days commemorating its independence. The other is el Dieciseis de Septiembre, or Sept. 16.

"It makes you feel proud (the Mexican army) was able to defeat the French in that battle," said Maria Sandoval, an interpreter with the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Ass--ociation, about the 1862 battle that gave birth to Cinco de Mayo.

"It's a big thing. It's an opportunity to come together, have some fun and celebrate. I would encourage everyone to go, have some fun and learn about another culture."

Viva la Fiesta

Organizers of the second annual Cinco de Mayo festival in Craig are hoping for double the turnout from last year's event, which drew 400 visitors.

"That's what we're hoping for -- to double that," said Alvaro Landa, vice president of Comunidad Integrada, the sponsoring organization. "It's a family-friendly deal and basically, it's for the whole valley. ... We just want to unite both communities and have a great time doing it."

The Cinco de Mayo celebration is from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday at the Moffat County Fairgrounds. The public is welcome and admission is free.

Comunidad Integrada is a local public service organization pledged to support and promote the successful integration into life in Moffat and Routt counties.

Activities will include children's games, mariachi music, folkloric music, piñatas and prize drawings. Food vendors and informational booths will be part of the local celebration.

About 20 local businesses and organizations are sponsoring the event. Primary sponsors are Chapman Automotive, The Industrial Company and T & H Parts, Landa said.

Event history

Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Mexican defeat of the French Army at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. However, its significance is much broader than that single battle.

In spring 1862, the Mexican government received word that French forces were marching on Mexico City. France, which sought to annex Mexico, used debt collection to justify aggression.

In response, President Benito Juarez sent troops to head them off. On May 5, in the small town of Puebla, a small army led by Gen. Ignacio Zaragoza met and defeated the invading French army, a well-trained, battle tested group led by Napoleon III.

Though only a temporary setback for Napoleon, the Mexican victory proved to be a catalyst for the undermanned homeland force. Historians credit the victory with providing General Zaragoza's army with enough confidence to preserve and, ultimately, triumph over the French five years later, in 1867.

Historians also say the Mexican victory proved important to the young United States because it kept a European power away from American borders.

Cinco de Mayo has gained popularity in recent years throughout U.S. cities with strong Hispanic communities.

For more information about Saturday's event in Craig, call Comunidad Integrada at 846-5521.

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