The Gate: Cinco de Mayo

The saying is, “On Cinco de Mayo, everybody’s Latino!” For more than two decades, the Maru Montero Dance Company has hosted an annual May 5 festival to commemorate Mexico’s victory in the 1862 Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War. The free day-long celebration on the Mall, featuring music, dance and crafts, is “a chance to make a party, and it’s a family party,” says Maru Montero, the dance company and festival founder. She calls it 100 percent cultural and open to Washington’s diverse array of Latin Americans. “After the winter, this is perfect,” Montero says.

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5 Costume changes for the Maru Montero Dance Company. These include men in mariachi suits with silver buttons and wide-brimmed hats who change into white cotton pants and loose guayabera shirts. The women change from ranchera long skirts with colorful ribbons into long white Veracruz dresses with black aprons.

7 Types of music and dances performed, including mariachi, hip-hop, banda, salsa, cumbia, merengue and folk.

8 Latin American countries represented. Performers hail from Mexico, where the holiday originated, as well as Brazil, Peru, El Salvador, Guatemala, Panama, Bolivia and Cuba.

21 Years since the festival began with a handful of school celebrations. After performances at community centers and the Kennedy Center, the festival moved to the Mall in 1998 and has grown to include nearly 20,000 people.

1990 Maru Montero began her Columbia Heights-based company to promote Mexican and Latin American dance. It includes children’s programs, community outreach and professional dancers. Members perform at schools, libraries and festivals, and annually at agencies during Hispanic Heritage month, which begins Sept. 15.

151 Years since the Cinco de Mayo battle in which outgunned Mexican troops prevailed against occupying French forces. The victory was a tremendous source of pride and helped slow French troops en route to Mexico City.

— Lonnae O’Neal Parker

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