In most parts of the country, the fifth of May is a barely understood holiday spent downing cervezas and donning sombreros, like some sort of south-of-the-border St. Patrick's Day. But fortunately for Phoenicians, a strong Hispanic heritage brings soul to Cinco de Mayo, providing substance and an atmosphere fit for families, not barflies. What started as a commemoration of the Battle of Puebla, an 1862 showdown between the French army and the ultimately victorious Mexican militia, is now a celebration of Mexican culture itself.
Get in the mood two days early, when Bashas' Cinco de Mayo Festival takes over downtown Phoenix, along Washington from Central to Fourth Avenue. Running from 6 p.m. to midnight Friday, May 3; noon to midnight Saturday, May 4; and noon to 10 p.m. Sunday, May 5, the annual fiesta is a huge showcase of Latino entertainment, with legendary group War headlining the music roster and an appearance by the Qué Loco Comedians. Admission is $5 for adults, free for children 12 and younger. Call 602-279-4669 for details.
The City of Mesa's 16th Annual Cinco de Mayo Fiesta also starts the celebration early, running from 5 to 10 p.m. Friday, May 3, and from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, May 4. Friday heats up with a dance party, while Saturday's spice comes through in a salsa recipe contest. Also on Saturday, expect games for the kids, mariachi and dance performances, and loads of food. Located at Pioneer Park, 526 East Main in Mesa. To find out more, call 480-644-2351.
Cinco de Mayo events
On Saturday, May 4, Chandler's 5th Annual Cinco de Mayo Celebration runs from noon to 8 p.m. and once again presents Chihuahua races at 5:30 p.m. More than 200 Chihuahuas are expected at the races and at the crowning of the King and Queen of Chihuahuas, a sort of canine beauty contest, starting at 6:30 p.m. (Registration is at 4 p.m., and the pet entry fee is $5 per event.) The festival also boasts performances by mariachi bands and local jazz ensemble Latino Rebel. Located at downtown Chandler's Dr. A.J. Chandler Park, 3 South Arizona Avenue. Call 480-963-3953 for details.
Scottsdale's Paiute Neighborhood Center and Paiute Park jointly sponsor a Cinco de Mayo Celebration from 5 to 9:30 p.m. Saturday, May 4, kicking off with a salsa contest complemented by a big menu of Mexican food and followed by mariachi and folklorico dances. The center is located at 6535 East Osborn, and the park is at 3211 North 66th Street, both in Scottsdale. For more information, call 480-312-2529.
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The City of Avondale calls its Cinco de Mayo party "Dancin' in the Streets," and for good reason. Along with a performance by local band Latin Explosion, visitors can shimmy to mariachi sounds and dance along to a folklorico performance. The most unique feature of this fiesta is a zoot suit contest; other highlights include salsa contests, food booths and an appearance by the Slow Lane Car Club, featuring cars from the 1920s through 1940s. The free event takes place between 5:30 and 10 p.m. Sunday, May 5, at Sernas Plaza, located at Fifth Street and Western Avenue in Avondale. To find out more, call 623-932-9440.