Cinco de Mayo in Kansas City: history + celebrations

Traditional papel picado hanging in KC’s Westside neighborhood. | Photo by @masterbrenner

Traditional papel picado hanging in KC’s Westside neighborhood. | Photo by @masterbrenner

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Feliz Cinco de Mayo. Today honors Mexico’s victory over French forces in the Battle of Puebla — a major symbol of anti-imperialism, freedom, and democracy.

Cinco de Mayo translates to “May 5,” which is the day the battle was fought in 1862. One of the first recorded celebrations happened just weeks later, when news of the victory reached Columbia, California. Latin + Californian residents alike joined in. While the win was significant for Mexico, it also kept Napoleon at bay, and he was unable to aid the Confederacy during the US Civil War.

KC’s Mexico connection

You’ve heard of Union Station, right? Mexican settlers began moving to KC in 1909 to work on the railroads and build the new train station (after the flooded Union Depot in the West Bottoms). Immigrants first settled on KC’s Westside with communities later emerging in other places like KCK’s Argentine. Cinco de Mayo celebrations have taken place in the Westside since the 1920s.

Life for the immigrant workers and their families was tough (moving away from political upheaval, settling in foreign environments, racial prejudice), so female reformers created a social service organization called the Guadalupe Center — still operating today.

Ways to celebrate in KC

This cultural holiday is more than just Mexican flags and marg deals. Although consumer-driven celebrations sprang up in the 1980s and remain popular, a couple authentic events remain in KC — if you know where to look.

Cinco de Mayo Celebration, Guadalupe Centers, 1015 Avenida Cesar E. Chavez, Kansas City, MO | Friday, May 6-Sat., May 7 | Times vary | Free | A 100-year-old celebration (literally started in 1922) with mariachis, folkloric dancers, food trucks, kids rides, and art.

Trio Aztlan Celebrates Cinco de Mayo, Blue Room, 1600 East 18th St., Kansas City, MO | Thurs., May 5 | 12-1 p.m. | Free | Formed in 1992 due to the absence of a traditional Latin trio group in KC, this group performs folkloric music.

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