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Roseland’s Cinco de Mayo is canceled again

Come May, there will be no Cinco de Mayo party in Roseland.

The Roseland Cinco de Mayo Festival, the seminal and beloved event in Santa Rosa’s southwest neighborhood that celebrates Mexican culture, has been canceled for the third year with organizers pointing to impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

It’s the second springtime festival canceled in Santa Rosa amid pandemic concerns even as other large events move forward.

The Luther Burbank Rose Parade, which typically happens in May, was canceled for the third year out of concern for public health and because of planning delays related to the winter omicron surge. But other events have returned like the Butter & Egg Days Parade which drew thousands April 23 to downtown Petaluma.

Sylvia Lemus, one of the Cinco de Mayo Festival organizers, said planning for the event typically starts in January but efforts were sidelined by rising COVID-19 cases and new pandemic protocols fueled by the highly contagious omicron variant. Uncertainty about whether pandemic metrics would improve by May also made organizers wary, she said.

“We know that COVID has hit stronger in underserved communities and communities of color,” Lemus said. “At the time we felt it was best not to have the event.”

The planning committee reconvened in early April amid improving case and hospitalization rates and after interest from the community but members ultimately felt there wasn’t enough time to plan an event, she said.

“If we want to put on a festival, we want it to be safe and family-friendly as always and we didn’t feel we had the time to do that,” she said.

The annual festival was started in 2006 after years of informal events led to sometimes rowdy crowds and clashes with police. Community leaders and then-Sonoma County Sheriff Bill Cogbill came together to instead organize an event for everyone.

Cinco de Mayo commemorates the 1862 Battle of Puebla, a Mexican military victory over the French forces of Napoleon III but has become more popular among people in the U.S.

Organizers tout the Roseland event as the largest Cinco de Mayo festival in Northern California. In 2019, the last year it was held, the celebration drew about 10,000 to the Roseland Village shopping center on Sebastopol Road where it has been held since its inception.

People celebrate with traditional music, dance performances and food and the event provides a boost to more than 100 vendors who use the event to help promote their business.

“It was the event of the year and this is the third year that they will not be able to sell,” Lemus said.

Lemus said she is concerned young people may choose to celebrate in “risky” ways now that the event is canceled. The last two years saw a wave of sideshows in place of the festival.

Hundreds of people gathered for an impromptu Cinco de Mayo celebration in Roseland, Wednesday, May 5, 2021  (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2021
Hundreds of people gathered for an impromptu Cinco de Mayo celebration in Roseland, Wednesday, May 5, 2021 (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2021

An impromptu event in 2021 drew a crowd of about 2,000 people with cars burning rubber while performing stunts at the intersection of West Avenue and Sebastopol Road. There were two collisions and one person was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving.

Law enforcement across Sonoma County shut down at least five sideshow locations the year before, including one with at least 100 cars filled with people.

“Youth want to celebrate, they want to have fun,” Lemus said. “In some situations, if you don’t have a sanctioned event for families and youth, then it can open up the community to different things that could happen.”

Still, there is much to be hopeful about, Lemus said.

The committee is already looking to next year’s event and members expect to start planning this fall for the festivities bearing in mind that COVID-19 is still present in the community, she said.

“Everyone’s heart was in the festival and I look forward to the community and volunteers coming back and supporting us in the future,” she said.

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