Over a Century of Mexican Festivities in Omaha

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May 11th, 2021

Cinco de Mayo Moved to June. Photo by KVNO News

OMAHA – In the ‘90s Nebraska was ranked No.10 in the country for being one of the fastest-growing states to experience an increase in the Latino population.

But the archive of the Omaha World-Herald newspaper says that in 1920 the Mexican colony was already celebrating “Liberty Day,” referring to the independence day of Mexico on September 16. According to the newspaper, about 500 members of a colony met at the Hanscom park pavilion and enjoyed traditional Mexican dances, music, and food, much like the Cinco de Mayo celebrations that had been taking place in South Omaha.

In 2020 it would have been one hundred years since the Mexican community began this kind of celebration.

Marcos Mora has been the coordinator of this event for over ten years, but he’s been involved since the late ’90s

“I think a lot of people don’t realize now that Cinco de Mayo is Omaha’s number one largest festival,” Mora said. “The largest event actually, that’s a local event, not counting world series (that’s not local, that’s national) but we’re actually the largest event in Omaha with a quarter-million people over three days. Now, will we get that money for this, no, but after 2019, I mean it’s going to be a huge event and I think people are excited for it to happen again.”

Mora is very familiar with these celebrations because his grandparents were some of the people who contributed significantly to the development of those celebrations.

“I had been involved in Cinco de Mayo since college, you know, as a volunteer. Then later I was in charge of entertainment and marketing and then when John Barrientos stepped down… I’ve been the coordinator and I have pictures of my grandparents on 24th St in the ‘30s, you know, right there at 24th and P,” Mora said.

The celebration went from being more popular on September sixteenth than May fifth.

That is why Mora cannot say that the same festival has been celebrated since 1920, but he does recognize that one or another Mexican holiday has been carried out in Omaha for more than a century.

Is Cinco de Mayo the independence day of Mexico?

Mexico’s independence anniversary is celebrated on September 16, which was what the Mexican colony celebrated back in 1920. Cinco de Mayo is an anniversary of the Mexican army defeating the French army in 1862.

According to Marcos and what his family has told him, in the ’70s, for some reason, Cinco de Mayo became more popular across the United States.

In one way or another, Mexican holiday celebrations in Omaha have been around for a long time, and Mora believes that this celebration could be recognized nationally.

“There is no other ethnic group that has that continuity for that long,” Mora said. “I mean, you have the Italians have been around for a while, Santa Lucia, but even that festival is gone, you know, it’s not the same magnitude it used to be back in the day.”

This year, the committee postponed the celebration for the weekend of June 10th. Mora spoke about a parade, which is planned to run for 5 blocks in the south of Omaha with two stages for music, dances, food and a carnival, among many other things typical of these celebrations in Mexico.

For more information about the Cinco de Mayo festival, visit www.cincodemayoomaha.com.

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