Cinco de Mayo festival a fun fundraiser

A dance group performs last weekend at the Evanston Machine Shop during the annual Cinco de Mayo fiesta. The event, which raises money for scholarships and other charitable work, was held Saturday, May 7. (HERALD PHOTO/Hayden Godfrey)

EVANSTON — For 32 years, Evanston Middle School teacher Amy Velasquez has been providing the people of Evanston with a picture of Hispanic culture by hosting the annual Cinco de Mayo fiesta, a charitable project known for providing scholarships to high school seniors. That tradition continued last week, when performers, patrons and vendors filled the Evanston Machine Shop on Saturday, May 7.

After a decade of small celebrations in her classroom, Velasquez took the event to the community, donating the proceeds to the relatives of plane crash victims, cancer patients, and fallen firefighters.

In 2007, the first scholarships were presented. Although Velasquez is pleased by her many significant contributions to the community, the festival only began because she wanted to teach about the beauty of Mexican culture. This is evident in nearly every element of the event.

One important part of the Cinco de Mayo fiesta is its display of Hispanic dances. In Velasquez’s first year student-teaching, an exchange student taught her a Mexican dance, which was thereafter shown to a class of elementary school students.

Over time, Velasquez developed a collection of 30 dances, and she now displays them in a rotation at the festival, always beginning with the dance that inspired her. These dances have made her class more popular to incoming Spanish students, she said, who express an interest in it as early as elementary school.

The festival featured a performance by local dance studio To The Pointe. Several age groups participated, ranging from early childhood to high school. Their act was followed by Mariachi Zavala, a band from Ogden, Utah, which specializes in Mexican music. Since 1994, this group has performed throughout Utah, visiting public and private events ranging from parades to cultural celebrations.

Also involved was Latin Dance Heritage. Operating out of Salt Lake City, this group of performers travels throughout the western United States, staging numerous dances from Mexico, Bolivia, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela and Argentina. Latin Dance Heritage has been a part of the Cinco de Mayo festival for roughly 15 years. During the spring and summer, they visit schools and community events, and they have performed in Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

Saturday evening concluded with karaoke and dancing accompanied by DJ Bearded Boombox. Throughout the day’s events, authentic Mexican food and other products were available at booths, provided by Evanston locals and companies from Utah.

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