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Midvale Journal

Cinco de Mayo celebration brings together Midvale class, community

May 16, 2018 10:02AM ● By Julie Slama

Elementary fifth-graders perform “Chinelos de Morelos” during the school’s third annual Cinco de Mayo celebration. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Midvale Elementary fifth-grader Julissa Rodriguez stayed after school every Monday for two months leading up to her school’s Cinco de Mayo celebration so she could learn “Danza de las ollas de Michoacán” or dance of the pots from the Mexican state of Michoacán. 

“It was hard because at first, we only had one pot and we had to take turns,” she said. “We were practicing it on the gym floor and it was slippery.”

The dance, which on the May 4 morning before school not only featured the girls carrying the clay pots on their shoulders, but also had them balancing and dancing on top of them.

Julissa’s mother, Claudia, said that typically afterschool, her daughter does ballet and plays soccer. 

“She’s very athletic,” Rodriguez said. “She was looking forward to dancing for the school celebration.” 

Julissa’s teacher, Diana Benetias, brought the pots and Mexican traditional costumes for both the girls and boys from Mexico during spring break. Parents had agreed to purchase them for the celebration.

“This is the third year we have celebrated Cinco de Mayo and I thought it would be good to teach them about the different regions of Mexico and the diversity of culture there,” Benetias said. “Many of the students’ ancestors are Mexican so they love learning about their traditions. Our dances and arts bring joy.”

Of the 33 fifth-grade students in her class, Benetias said about 80 percent have Latino heritage. However, this celebration gives all students a chance to learn and appreciate the culture, she said.

“It gives our students a chance to come together and understand about Cinco de Mayo and why it’s important for both countries, Mexico and America (in their respective struggles against Europe for independence),” Benetias said.

After not being able to afford to pay back the French government, the French Empire took to battle the Mexicans. Cinco de Mayo, or May 5th, commemorates the Mexican army’s unexpected victory over the French Empire at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. In the United States, the holiday has become an opportunity to observe Mexican culture, whereas in Mexico, it is more of a commemoration of the battle, she said.

The Cinco de Mayo celebration also had several boys to perform “Chinelos de Morelos.” Chinelos are traditional costumed dancers who typically wear masks that originally tied into religious celebrations, such as Carnival, but now are used “to celebrate freedom, joy and happiness,” she said about the popular dance from her home state. 

Several students waved flags and helped with the production of the celebration, under the guidance of fifth-grade teacher Nicole Pecum. 

“This is a great activity especially in Midvale, where we can live in diversity and acceptance,” Benetias said.