Thousands celebrate Mexican culture, food at Roseland Cinco de Mayo Festival

There are arguably no better tokens of a culture than its food and music.

For some, the annual Cinco de Mayo celebration is all about the churros, chicharrones de harina, enchiladas Michoacánas, tacos de barbacoa and all manner of flavors worth waiting for in the long lines that took over Santa Rosa’s Roseland Village shopping center on Sunday.

For many others in the crowd, it was the traditional dance and songs at the family-friendly festival that transported them back to their homeland or that of their family.

Watching her 7-year-old daughter in a traditional white lace dress dance on stage to the classic ballad “La Bruja,” Faviola Gonzalez said she felt she was fulfilling her duty connecting her American-born child to her Mexican family’s culture.

“Every time I see her dance, my heart beats so fast. It feels like it’s going to jump out,” said Gonzalez, 36, of Rohnert Park. “I want her to feel proud. I tell her, ‘You are Mexican-American. You are American-Mexican.’?”

Now in its 14th year, the Roseland Cinco de Mayo Festival drew an estimated 10,000 people to the massive Sebastopol Road parking lot near the Dollar Tree that has been home to the event since its inception.

With a radio station featuring local musicians on one stage, and children’s performances most of the afternoon on another stage, the event ended at night with the headliner band Estrellas de la Bahia from Richmond.

Organizers touted the event as Northern California’s largest Cinco de Mayo festival. Celebrated in communities across the United States - some say more dutifully than in Mexico - the holiday is a celebration of Mexican culture tied to the Battle of Puebla, a victory for the Mexican military over the invading French army in 1862.

During the festival, Santa Rosa children staged attacks with fistfuls of flour, turning brown hair white on Sebastopol Road, which was closed to traffic along the festival site.

Next year, the event might move out of the parking lot and into the street because of pending redevelopment plans for the future Roseland Village Neighborhood Center, said Sylvia Lemus, festival co-organizer.

It was the second Cinco de Mayo festival held there since Santa Rosa annexed Roseland in 2017, officially bringing the neighborhood - where 3 out of 5 residents identified as Latino - into city limits. Lemus and her co-organizer, Caroline Bañuelos, said they have been told an open-air food court is expected to open at the site in the coming months, with more development projects to begin later this year.

The city’s plans include a public plaza, mercado-style food hall, library and local Boys & Girls Club and a new apartment complex.

Bañuelos was on the original Cinco de Mayo organizing committee tasked with developing an official family-focused festival in 2005 to replace the informal and at times rowdy and dangerous community celebrations. She said it has become precisely what they had hoped.

“I love to see the parents pushing strollers, the grandparents, all together,” Lemus said.

Of nearly 100 booths, many showcased nonprofits, government and law enforcement agencies.

Fourth grader Christopher Gudino, 9, stopped Santa Rosa Police Capt. Ray Navarro near a booth to hand him a debit card.

“We found this on the ground,” said Gudino, who had been looking for an officer to give the card to after he, his sister and their cousin spotted it.

“Thank you very much,” said Navarro, who then talked with the children about their schools and what they’d done at the festival. “You guys have a good time.”

At a nearby booth, CHP Officer Custudio Lopez wore a blue and gold mariachi hat that matched perfectly with the gold and blue on his uniform.

The Santa Rosa native has worn the eye-catching hat at the festival for several years, becoming an annual draw for people who want photos with him, including Maria Whiteman, 40, of Sonoma. She has had her son, Steven Whiteman, 4, take a picture with the officer for several years.

“It’s the one day each year when I can put it on with my uniform,” Lopez said.

Cinco de Mayo celebration in Santa Rosa

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Posted by Press Democrat on Sunday, May 5, 2019

You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 707-521-5220 or

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