Celebrating Cinco de Mayo in Willowbrook

Dancing in a conga line, listening to the trumpet, guitarron and violin of Mariachi Ellas Son, nearly 300 Second District residents celebrated the Cinco de Mayo holiday at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Public Health in Willowbrook. The festive celebration, which commemorates the Mexican army’s 1862 victory over France at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War, is an annual tradition at the Center for Public Health sponsored by Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas.

“We are here to promote and celebrate health, fitness and wellness,” said Chairman Ridley-Thomas. “Over the next year the Martin Luther King, Jr. medical campus will be transformed into a center of excellence for healthcare delivery in the Willowbrook community and beyond.”

As guests received fitness and nutritional eating tips from various resource tables staged in the parking lot, danced to salsa music or munched on salsa verde with chips, corn and bean salad and a vegetable salad prepared by Chef Cheryl Tate, others contemplated what the holiday means to them and reflected on their Mexican roots.

Among those singing along to the ranchera music was Raquel Piñeda, 60, of Florence-Firestone who moved to Los Angeles from Michoacan, Mexico when she was 15-years-old. When they were young, she instilled in her now-grown children a love of Mexican music and dance.

“On Cinco de Mayo we have a family reunion,” said Piñeda. “We teach the kids how to dance to cumbia, mambo, and rock and roll. We play bingo and poker and watch the kids take turns swinging at the piñata.”

Sandra Gonzalez, 33, from Los Angeles, also pauses on Cinco de Mayo to share memories of family.

“We took my first family trip to Mexico when I was nine and my last when I was 14-years-old,” said Gonzalez. “We share stories with younger generations of visiting Mexico when we were younger and it gives the young people in my family an opportunity to learn about their culture -to know who they are and where they come from.”

For others, like Andres Gonzalez, 33 of South Gate, Cinco de Mayo is an opportunity for people of all cultures and walks of life to come together to learn about Mexican history.

“People forget that the city of L.A. was founded by Mexico — San Francisco, San Diego, Sacramento- all kept the original names that were given to them when they were part of Mexico,” said Gonzalez. “People forget that not all Latinos are immigrants and that they were here when the south west states became part of the U.S.”

Fabiola Galvan Torres, 23, who was born in Michoacan, Mexico and now lives in Canoga Park, says the holiday makes her feel American.

“I feel like now it’s more of a Mexican-American holiday,” she said. “I think it’s great because it brings everyone together not just Mexicans but it has become like St. Patrick’s Day.”