Downtown Hermiston was packed Sunday, filled to the brim with thousands celebrating Cinco de Mayo.
The event had always been busy — Francisco Torres and Alfredo Aceves had been hosting the event for 23 years at McKenzie Park and Victory Square Park — but this was the first year it was smack in the middle of Main Street.
“Look around, we might need an even bigger location,” Torres said while squeezed by the crowd.
Filled with a parade, dancing horses, live music, a beer garden and an abundance of tacos, Hermiston’s Cinco de Mayo festival was the biggest in northeastern Oregon. A consistent crowd of a few thousand gathered on the street from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. all day.
The spark for the event began when the city’s Hispanic Advisory Committee was founded last year. Chairman Eddie De La Cruz spoke with city manager Ed Brookshier about bringing the festival downtown. Soon, the mayor and city council were on board and a Cinco de Mayo committee was formed.
“With all the support our city’s leaders have given us, there was no way we could let this opportunity go by,” said De La Cruz, who was also the chair of the Cinco de Mayo committee.
Wearing neon green T-shirts, members of the event’s committee popped out in the crowds.
“I’m so honored to have this celebration on Main Street — in Hermiston, the inclusive community,” De La Cruz said. “I love my community.”
Prior to receiving his own leadership award from La Voz newspaper editor David Cortinas, De La Cruz honored six people Saturday for their work with the Hispanic community. Torres and Aceves received awards in addition to parks and recreation director Larry Fetter, Eddie’s father Celso De La Cruz, school board member Maria Duron and city councilor George Anderson.
Spanish words rang out more than English in downtown Hermiston that day. Thirty-five percent of the town’s population is Hispanic according to the 2010 census, and Hispanic students makes up half of Hermiston High School.
Commissioner Dennis Doherty had his son, Ben, translate to Spanish as he spoke to the crowd.
“It would be wrong to forget our heritage,” Dennis Doherty said. “We celebrate it today with gusto. Today, let us make everyone feel welcome, appreciated and valued.”
Amid inflatable play houses with sugar-filled children and couples swaying together in the street, Torres reminisced about the changes over the last 23 years. His organization, the Latin American Culture Club, announced a $500 scholarship for Hispanic students at the festival that day.
Torres said he dreams of creating $5,000 or $10,000 scholarships. He knows it can happen.
“It was different 23 years ago,” Torres said. “There wasn’t as many Hispanic residents then and the businesses, at least the ones we came to, were always supportive. But now, everyone is supportive. Today is like a dream come true.”
Contact Natalie Wheeler at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-564-4536.
This story originally appeared in East Oregonian.