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'Nothing to do with partying': Making a cultural tradition of Cinco de Mayo in West Michigan

Former teacher Lupe Ramos-Montigny began celebrating the holiday with her students 22 years ago
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Posted at 4:58 PM, May 05, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-05 17:36:38-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Folks from all over the state of Michigan gathered inside the Grand Rapids Public Museum Thursday afternoon to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, focusing on the determination shown by generations who came before.

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The holiday, which is often misunderstood in popular culture, was started by Chicano communities out in California during the 1960s as a way to commemorate the Mexican army's victory over a much larger French invasion during the Battle of Puebla in 1862.

“The commemoration of the Battle of Puebla is one of the most important days because it is one of the few victories against the invading forces,” said Rev. Edwin Carreño Carreño, who hails from Colombia.

While started in the United States, it is a day for Mexicans and Mexican Americans to remember the determination and strength shown by those Mexican soldiers during the fateful battle.

“Mexican soldiers were determined to regain respect and dignity ... if you have determination to overthrow that, it happens,” said Lupe Ramos-Montigny, chairperson of the Committee to Honor Cesar E. Chavez.

Most everything happening inside the public museum Thursday was the result of efforts by Ramos-Montigny over multiple decades.

The former teacher began celebrating Cinco de Mayo with her students 22 years ago, taking a handful of her most focused and accomplished pupils out to lunch to show them the bounty of their efforts to succeed in their education.

Ramos-Montigny has always focused her celebrations on personal strength and believing in the power of determination.

"It has nothing to do with partying and using, you know, beer and all those kinds of things," she explained Thursday.

“I retired from the classroom, but not from the community.”

Her small student-based holiday parties slowly grew over the years, with more Michiganders joining them to celebrate in a more traditional form.

“The diversity of our city is, I think, one of its strengths, and we've seen that in terms of the economic contributions, we've seen that in terms of just the ways in which our community ties together,” said Congressman Peter Meijer, who was at the museum for the festivities.

Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Winstrom was also in attendance Thursday.

“Everything takes time, but it has blossomed to this degree,” Ramos-Montigny said with a giant smile on her face.

"It's very important to keep that hope alive.”

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