A misunderstood holiday

Members of the folklórico group, Raíces spent many days during their spring break and after school practicing and perfecting their dances.

Members of the folklórico group, Raíces spent many days during their spring break and after school practicing and perfecting their dances.

What does Cinco de Mayo celebrate? If you think it celebrates Mexican independence, you are wrong, but not alone in your assumption.

Cinco de Mayo is the celebration of the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, in which a small Mexican army scored an unlikely victory over French forces in the town of Puebla. The battle is more symbolic of Mexican pride than a victory that led to independence, which was achieved before the Battle of Puebla and is celebrated Sept. 16.

Three Rosa Parks Elementary School parents – Judith Ruvalcaba, Maribel Arias, and Ana M. Valdez – are working to ensure that students understand the meaning of Cinco de Mayo and the culture behind it. They organized and taught 56 students from preschool through fifth grade to perform traditional dances from three Mexican states – Jalisco, Durango, and Veracruz – for an all-school assembly May 5. The students had practiced after school three days a week since February.

“I have been (dancing) since I was 18 years old,” Arias said. “I want to re-live my culture since I don’t live in my country anymore … and because my daughter loves being part of dancing.”

In addition to the cultural dances, 10 students performed a theatrical play, re-creating the Battle of Puebla through photos and narration.

Valdez said the time spent working with the younger children was worth it.

“For me it’s very emotional because I saw them being excited,” she said. “I was overwhelmed with emotions.”

All students wore traditional costumes, purchased through fundraising activities. The costumes will be passed on to next year’s performers, and organizers hope the group will grow. Arias and Valdez said that after the performance, many children came up and said, “Maestra (teacher), we want to dance next year.”

Arias said she hopes the performance gets more students curious about where they came from. “Maybe their parents haven’t shown them their own culture at home.”

The dance troupe, Ballet Folklorico Raices, will continue performing at events as requested.