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EARLY SUNDAY MORNING before the Cinco de Mayo parade took place in downtown Stockton, people began scouting out the best location to view the event and set up lawn chairs and blankets.

Many people said they arrived as early as 9:30 a.m. to get a good view of the parade, despite the Mexican celebration beginning at 11 a.m. at the Weber Point Events Center.

Near the Cesar Chavez Central Library, Maria Cabrales sat next to her husband Saul, who was wearing a large sombrero and a poncho with the colors of the Mexican flag.

“We got here at 9:30 this morning and we have been coming to the parade for 10 years,” said Maria.

Santino Leanos, 3, plays with his bubble gun as he waits for the Cinco de Mayo parade to begin at Weber Point Events Center in Stockton on May 7, 2023. (Harika Maddala/Bay City News/Catchlight Local)

The parade was put on by El Concilio, a nonprofit organization that offers a multitude of services primarily to Central Valley’s Hispanic population and said the free outdoor celebration has been a San Joaquin Valley tradition for nearly three decades.

Organizers said that Cinco de Mayo was first declared a national holiday in 1862, when the Mexican army won the Battle of Puebla against the French, who wanted to gain control of the country under the rule of Napoleon III.

“We got here at 9:30 this morning and we have been coming to the parade for 10 years.”

Maria Cabrales, festival attendee

The holiday, frequently mistaken for Mexico’s independence day, remains as a notable day of history and a celebration of Mexican culture.

The Cesar Chavez High School mariachis kicked off the parade, dressed in their native clothing while playing famous Mexican songs such as “El Rey” by Vicente Fernandez, a well-known Mexican ranchera singer.

Attendees represented the Mexican flags in different ways — while some people wore Mexican soccer jerseys or traditional Mexican dresses, Angela Santana did her eyeshadow using red, white and green.

During the parade, people rode on horses, Aztec dancers with feathers in their hair moved to the jingle of percussion instruments on their ankles, State Sen. Susan Eggman waved to the crowd on top of a BMW vehicle, firefighter trucks sounded their siren, and folklorico dancers twirled in long Mexican traditional dresses.

Also included in the procession were lowrider cars, which are customized cars with hydraulics that lower the classic cars to nearly touch the ground. One vehicle was designed to look like a police vehicle and carried Stockton Police Chief Stanley McFadden, who had a wide smile on his face as he waved to the crowd.

Aztec dancers perform along the parade route on Center Street in Stockton during the Cinco de Mayo festival on Sunday. (Harika Maddala/Bay City News/Catchlight Local)

Following the parade, people made their way to the events center, where more than 100 artisan and vendor booths were located, as well as food and beverages.

A wide selection of tacos, enchiladas, burritos, burgers, aguas frescas, ice cream and a variety of other food was available.

Henna tattoo artist Manali Jha was one of the vendors at the festival offering spray painted tattoos and hand drawn henna designs.

She said she had been doing the art form for 15 years and moved to the U.S. 12 years ago from India.

“When the rush hits I can take seven to 10 minutes to do a design,” Jha said.

Banda Para Sangre performs during the Cinco de Mayo festival at Weber Point Events Center in Stockton on May 7, 2023. (Harika Maddala/Bay City News/Catchlight Local)

She said she typically attends many of the events held in Stockton such as the Asparagus Festival and Brew Fest.

Across from Jha’s booth was a stage where Banda Pura Sangre began playing.

Sofia Fregoso, 6, dances to the live music of Banda Pura Sangre during the Cinco de Mayo festival at Weber Point Events Center in Stockton on Sunday. (Harika Maddala/Bay City News/Catchlight Local)

As soon as they took the stage several people grabbed a dance partner and started dancing, but six-year-old Sofia Fregoso, dressed in a jean skirt, a cow print shirt, and Mexican boots, didn’t need anyone but herself to enjoy the performance.

Holding her belt buckle with one hand and using her other hand to hold onto her tejana, also known as a cowboy hat, she began stomping her feet to the music and swaying her body while her long brown hair moved side-to-side with her every move.

Fregoso got the attention of many people in the crowd who recorded her dance moves.

Maria Sanchez, who is originally from Mexico City, said she attends the event every year because it makes her feel close to her home again and it’s a place she can be surrounded by her own people.

“Cinco de Mayo to me means our heritage, where we come from, who we are,” said Sanchez.

Victoria Franco is a reporter based in Stockton covering San Joaquin County for Bay City News Foundation and its nonprofit news site Local News Matters. She is a Report for America corps member.

Victoria Franco, Bay City News

Victoria Franco is a Stockton-based reporter covering the diverse news around the Central Valley as part of the Report for America program. As a Stockton native, Franco is proud to cover stories within her community and report a variety of coverage. She is a San Jose State University alumna with a Bachelor of Science degree in Journalism. In her collegiate years she was Managing Editor for the Spartan Daily. From her time at the Spartan Daily she helped lead her staff to California College Media Awards and a General Excellence first place. Victoria encourages readers to email her story tips and ideas at