Latinos pour heart and soul into music, food at Columbia Cinco de Mayo festival

jmonk@thestate.comMay 4, 2014 

— “Bueno, bonito y barato!” cried a man selling a roast chicken Sunday at Columbia’s annual Cinco de Mayo festival.

The cry – meaning “Good, pretty and cheap!” – is a common one by street vendors in Spanish-speaking countries, and hearing it at the Cinco de Mayo food court was just one way the Hispanic spirit came alive Sunday in the Midlands.

It was the city’s annual Cinco de Mayo celebration – the first held at the S.C. State Museum in the Vista. Crowd estimates ranged from over 1,000 to some 3,000.

“This is great – this is the first time I’ve seen the Latino community come together with such nice music and dance,” said University of South Carolina assistant psychology professor Elma Lorenzo-Blanco.

The music included a Mexican mariachi band playing melodramatic ballads beloved across Latin America for their tales of love, death and bad endings.

Many of these songs are as well known to Latins as the songs of Elvis or the Beatles are to generations of English speakers. Their trademark is a soulful singer backed by blend of violin, guitar, bass guitar and trumpet – as well as cries of anguish – and the band Mariachi Los Cabos had them all.

As singer Martha Maria belted out “La Noche de mi Mal” – a tale of a woman whose heart broke the night her lover left – many in the crowd sang along:

“No quiero ni volver a oír tu nombre, no quiero ni saber adonde vas,” (“I don’t want to hear your name again, I don’t want to know where you’re going”) and when the song was finished, the crowd hollered “Otra! Otra!” (Another!)

Just before the mariachi band, Mexican dancers from the Latin Heritage Dance Company in Charlotte riveted the crowd.

The men and boys wore white pants, white shirts and sombreros; the women had full white dresses and white gauzy material on their arms to spread wide like butterfly wings. Their traditional dances – including a very fast “La Bamba” – blended the frantic foot stomping of Irish Riverdance, the dignity of old Parisian classical minuets and the uninhibited joy of good old American square dancing.

Outside on the museum top parking deck, food vendors like Jose Leon of San Jose restaurant sold quesadillas and tacos and merchandise sellers, like Antonio Ixcaquic from Guatemala sold colorful wares like scarves, key fobs and purses with the Guatemalan national bird, the quetzal, on them.

Toward day’s end, the mariachi band went outside and strolled from vendor to vendor, giving a serenade.

At the booth for a Carolinas Spanish-language radio station, they crooned “Ella” (“She”) to radio employee Belinda Diaz, who’s originally from Honduras.

“Me canse de decirle, que yo sin ella, de pena muero,” the song goes at one point. (“I got tired of telling her that without her, I’d die from pain.”)

Delighted, she sang with them and took the microphone at one point.

Later, Diaz said, “I love mariachi music, and especially that song. It’s a song about love. She’s going away, and he’s basically killing himself, drinking tequila and crying just for her.”

Cinco de Mayo (meaning 5th of May) had its origins in Mexico, but in many communities across the U.S., it has become a traditional way to celebrate and recognize varied Latin American cultures. Up until to this year, it had been held in Finlay Park.

Guido Penaranda, president of Hispanic Connections, the Columbia group that coordinated the event with the museum, said he was delighted with the turnout.

Hispanics from just about every Central and South American country attended, as well as many Midlands folks, he said.

“We hope to come back next year,” he said.

HISPANICS, LATINOS IN THE MIDLANDS

Some quick facts from the U.S. Census:

Population, 2012

Columbia: 4.3 percent of the population

Lexington County: 5.7 percent

Richland County: 5 percent

South Carolina: 5.3 percent

Businesses owned by Hispanics, Latinos, 2007

Columbia: 1.1 percent of businesses

Lexington County: 1.5 percent

Richland County: 1.2 percent

South Carolina: 1.7 percent

Language other than English spoken at home, 2012

Columbia: 7.3 percent of the population

Lexington County: 6.8 percent

Richland County: 7.6 percent

Reach Monk at (803) 771-8344. South Carolina: 6.8 percent

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