For the past 50 years, the road to El Cinco de Mayo has led to Pueblo.

This year, because of COVID-19, the traditional day of celebration and education in Bessemer Park, has been postponed indefinitely.

Because it is the 50th anniversary, a week of activities had been planned, including a youth conference at the university, a car show, and a launching of a traveling exhibit on La Cucaracha newspaper.

Some of those events may be rescheduled to late summer or fall, depending how the return to normality under the pandemic goes.

What didn’t get cancelled is the determination of the Cinco de Mayo Planning Committee members to mark the holiday in some significant ways.

Rita J. Martinez, chairwoman of the planning committee, said they began meeting in January, but quickly changed direction when it became apparent that events in the parks, at the university and other venues would not be feasible.

“We were looking for activities we could do and comply with social-distancing directives,” said Martinez.

One project that went on as planned, was the publication of a special edition of La Cucaracha newspaper. La Cucaracha ceased monthly publication in December 1983.

Because of the significance of the 50th anniversary, several members of the original staff wanted to put out a commemorative special edition.

“Even though we couldn’t get together in the park, we saw the special edition as a way of meeting our educational mission,” said Martinez. “In a typical year, we have speakers giving updates on current social justice issues and the special edition is a good way of doing that.”

Copies of La Cucaracha are available at some Thrifty Nickel stands around town, thanks to Ernie Montano, owner of the Thrifty Nickel. There is a 24-hour stand outside the Thrifty Nickel office at ,226 E. Abriendo Ave.

As a teenager, Montano was an intern at La Cucaracha and offered the use of his stands since he has not published since Gov. Jared Polis enacted a stay-at-home order. The next edition of the Thrifty Nickel will be on the stands on May 7.

Also, in support of its education mission, the committee is distributing 125 bags of school and art supplies to low-income families on a first-come-first-serve basis. The families are being recruited to the giveaway by local nonprofit organizations.

“Because of the pandemic, local schools had to abruptly discontinue school and switch to distance learning within a week,” said Denise Torrez, a District 60 teacher and member of the Cinco planning committee. “Many students didn’t have access to school supplies because they were left behind in their desks. Even with distance learning, students need paper and pencils in order to complete work and send it in electronically.”

The packets were made possible by donations from two organizations: Teach for America, and Pueblo Education Coalition. They will be distributed at Plaza Verde Park on May 5.

Cinco de Mayo Cruise

A Cinco de Mayo Cruise promises to be one of the most visible activities to the Pueblo community.

At least two dozen cars, including a few lowriders, will caravan through Pueblo on the afternoon of May 5. They will be decorated with numerous signs like, “Cinco de Mayo Pride,” and “Viva El Cinco de Mayo.” Other signs will thank essential workers and honor families impacted by COVID-19. Some of the destinations of the Cruise are the city’s nursing homes, hospitals and other places that employ essential workers.

A delegation from the committee will deliver a $1,000 check to the Care and Share, a local food bank. Most of the contributions were made by members of the planning committee.

A two-hour live-stream tribute to El Cinco on Facebook is planned to be aired at noon. The programing will include video and photos from previous Cinco celebrations, and interviews with individuals talking about their involvement with the holiday. A recording of the streaming will be available on the Cinco de Mayo and El Movimiento Sigue FB pages for later viewing.

Cinco is a Pueblo tradition

El Cinco de Mayo has a long history in Pueblo. The 50-year run being commemorating this year began in 1970 with a parade through Downtown and a festival in Mineral Palace Park. That year, Chicano leader Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales of Denver was the keynote speaker.

Parade entries came from a broad spectrum of Pueblo Latino organizations including Brown Berets, La Gente, Mexican American Development Association, American G.I. Forum and the Pride City Baton Corps.

In the years following, El Cinco was embraced by the Chicano Movement — a civil rights movement. It was activists in the movement who decided that Pueblo should celebrate El Cinco and Denver would get Sept. 16, Mexican Independence Day.

The activists were inspired by the history of the May 5 battle at Puebla, Mexico, where a poorly equipped Mexican army under Gen. Ignacio Zaragoza defeated Napoleon III’s elite French army. It was a victory for the underdogs and delayed the French’s attempt to establish a colony in Mexico.

The French returned a year later and successfully pushed on to Mexico City where they installed Maximilian as emperor of Mexico. For five years, President Benito Juarez fought the monarch, which ended in 1867 with the firing-squad execution of Maximilian.

That one-year delay proved pivotal to the U.S. Civil War as the French were allied with the Confederacy. By the time, Maximilian had been installed in Mexico City, it was too late for the French to render military support to the South.

In 2017, then state Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Denver, declared in a speech at Pueblo’s Cinco de Mayo celebration, that Cinco de Mayo should be celebrated by all Americans.

“What would have happened to the United States? Would we even have a United States if France had gained a foothold in Mexico? When Mexico fought for itself against the French, Mexico was also fighting for the United States of America. People need to remember that. This should be an American holiday because they saved our state of the union.

Juan Espinosa is a retired Pueblo Chieftain editor and reporter.