BSL and ASPIRA Host Cinco de Mayo Celebration

ASPIRA and BSL hosted a Cinco de Mayo celebration after school on May 10.

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Stuyvesant’s ASPIRA and Black Students League (BSL) hosted a Cinco de Mayo celebration after school on May 10 to celebrate the holiday and Hispanic culture. The event featured presentations of Hispanic culture through dance, poetry, film, and song.

The event started with remarks by senior and ASPIRA president Yajaira Rodriguez and senior and BSL president William Lohier, both of whom emphasized the importance of Cinco de Mayo in promoting Hispanic heritage in the U.S. “ASPIRA and BSL [weren’t] able to observe Hispanic Heritage Month back in October, so we wanted to host an event that would celebrate some aspect of Latinx pride. Cinco de Mayo was the first holiday that came to mind,” Rodriguez said in an e-mail interview. “Having discovered such a rich history behind the holiday most people associate with margaritas, we knew it was important to host a Cinco de Mayo celebration that reminded people of why we have the holiday in the first place.”

ASPIRA and BSL then showed a video presentation which explained the history of Cinco de Mayo. Commemorating the Mexican army’s victory against French forces during the Franco-Mexican War (1861-1867), the holiday is not considered a major holiday in Mexico. The holiday was “pushed onto the American calendar in the 1960s by Mexican Americans who wanted to establish their rights and pride,” Rodriguez said, and it has since gained popularity in other countries worldwide including Canada and Malta.

French teacher Manny Ramirez then took the floor to read a poem in Spanish. Ramirez wanted to participate in this event both to support his students and to celebrate their Hispanic background. “I hope [the event] brings awareness for the Latino members of our student body,” he said. “It’s well known [they are] not a particularly large group at this school, but I think it’s important that they still celebrate their heritage, and [that] they’re respected, and that people come. It’s actually really nice that most of the people in the audience were themselves not of Latino background. Their friends came to support and to help them honor their heritage.”

Ramirez also shares a personal connection with the holiday. “What's kind of ironic is that my mother was born in Mexico, and Cinco de Mayo is a Mexican holiday, but I’m a French teacher. And it’s funny because it celebrates the day that Mexican peasants defeated the invading French army,” he said.

The event continued with a traditional dance performed by Rodriguez and speeches by Principal Eric Contreras and SPARK coordinator Angel Colon. ASPIRA and BSL showed an excerpt from the documentary “Mi Chacra (My Land)” (2009), which follows the lives of Peruvian farmers. Then, Stuyvesant alumnus Erik Paulino (’89) gave his remarks. The program concluded with a closing speech and a singing of “México en la Piel.”

Though difficulties with the catering delayed its arrival, organizers and attendees then enjoyed traditional Mexican food, such as rice and beans, and Hispanic music, even breaking a Coco-themed piñata in celebration.

Organizing the event “was a group effort, which made everything less stressful,” Rodriguez said. “In the month before the event, club members gave suggestions on performances to include in the program, food and drinks we could bring to the dinner, and even ensured that the Stuy community received news of the event. Once they received word, Latinx alumni also helped out with the planning. Many offered donations to fund the catering, and a few offered to be a guest speaker.”

Colon also emphasized the students’ role in planning the event, saying, “It wasn’t me, it was the students, ASPIRA, BSL.” As SPARK coordinator, “I always get asked, ‘How come you don't do my culture?’ [...] It’s hard to squeeze all of these [holidays and celebrations] in a 10-month period,” he said. “The toughest part is the schedule.”

The event allowed students outside and inside ASPIRA and BSL to celebrate and learn more about Hispanic culture. “By attending the event, I feel like I definitely learned more about the history of the event itself as well as Mexican culture. I was able to taste food which I normally do not eat that was not only traditional Mexican food but also Cuban. I was also exposed to a new kind of music and felt that, overall, I learned a lot more about Hispanic culture,” sophomore and BSL vice president Falina Ongus said.

Organizers agreed that the event could be improved. Colon suggested adding a survey to better gauge student interest and receive feedback from attendees. Junior and ASPIRA leader Bryan Monge-Serrano suggested inviting middle school students to attend the event during the upcoming years. Exposing prospective Hispanic students to events like this would help them feel more comfortable coming to Stuyvesant, which is known for having a small Hispanic student population. “Just having an event like this for seventh graders, even, would be great because it would get the word out [about the Stuyvesant Hispanic community],” he said.

Despite minor technical difficulties and delays, the event was widely considered a success. “In the end, everyone enjoyed themselves, which for me was a key reason for organizing the event,” Rodriguez said. “I’m sure there’ll be another Cinco de Mayo celebration next year. Despite the hiccups, everyone seemed to really like the event, and they look forward to attending again next year. With our member count increasing and more alumni willing to come back and help ASPIRA and BSL, I’m sure whoever’s in charge next year will organize an even more successful Cinco de Mayo celebration.”

“I think the event was a success and many were able to learn more about Hispanic culture,” Ongus said. “I know this particular event had not been held before but a good number of people still came.”

When asked if he would participate in this event should it be held next year, Ramirez said, “Definitely, for a number of reasons. I’m always happy to support my students, especially when they take initiative. In this case, it was totally student-run, which I really respected, and also to celebrate diversity.”

Colon also encourages other students to be proactive in organizing events like this for their own cultures. “You know, you can do this too,” he said. “Just take an initiative, get some people. I will collaborate.”