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December 5, 2023

Q&A: Graciela Vega on Cinco de Mayo

The community is invited to gather and celebrate Cinco de Mayo on May 5 from 4-7pm in the Watsonville City Plaza. Co-presented by the Farmers’ Market, Poesía en la Plaza and Ballet Folklorico Ollin, the event will feature music, poets, dancers and booths. 

We spoke with Graciela Vega, founder of Ballet Folklorico Ollin and one of the event’s organizers, to learn more. 

What is the significance of Cinco de Mayo in this community and to you? 

Cinco de Mayo is historically important. It commemorates Mexico’s victory over France in the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. In 1863, Californians of Mexican and American descent began celebrating Cinco de Mayo to fundraise and raise awareness for democracy and freedom. Many people confuse this day with Mexican Independence Day, celebrated in September.

Our Cinco de Mayo event is a collaborative effort where the community comes together to celebrate a brief moment when a collective group beat a powerful oppressor. For many of the organizers, this event represents a cultural moment in spring to showcase the Mexican culture in Watsonville and the Central Coast. 

To me, this day represents unity and resilience. When I was a kid, when I spoke Spanish, I was called names. Here, kids can speak Spanish, listen to music from their culture, and be proud. It’s a validation of our roots. I like working on cultural events because they’re about unity. 

What will happen at the event?

There’ll be music, dancing and performances. The event invites everyone to participate, dance, clap their hands, and sing. It isn’t only about observing but also joining in the celebration of our culture and resilience. 

Organizations like, Activities 4 All, Angeles Danzantes, Ballet Folklorico Ollin, Alianza Dance Group, Los Coyucos, Watsonville High School Band, Ballet Folklorico Castroville, Folklorico Don Bosco, and Raices Mestizes will be there. Poets, including Beatriz Loez, Elvira Cuevas, Salvador Muñoz, and others from across the region, will read, inviting the community to enjoy, reflect and celebrate. A banda made up of people who love to play and sing together will get people on their feet and dancing.

The artists will reflect different peoples of Mexico, Mexican culture, and our joy. Jalisco, Norteño, Chiapas, Mestizo, and others will be represented. It’s a real family-friendly event. We’ll enjoy live music and dance together—it will be a real fandango!

As a show of solidarity and support, our friends at Pajaro Valley Arts at the Porter Building will also be open during the event.

You founded Ballet Folklorico Ollin. Can you tell us about that group and your history with folklorico dance?

I’ve danced since I was a child, I’m a poet, and I’ve been a teacher in local schools for a long time. I enjoy sharing my love of dance and the arts with young people. Ballet Folklorico Ollin began six years ago in Watsonville. Our purpose is to mentor dancers and share the history and traditions of different regions like Michoacan, Nayarit, Jalisco, Veracruz, Hidalgo, and Aguascalientes. We’ve collaborated with neighboring communities, including Aromas and Castroville. During Covid, we offered classes on YouTube, at the Public Library in Castroville, and at the Grange in Aromas. We now offer dance classes at the Watsonville Center for the Arts on Main Street. 


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