Every year, as the weather warmed, hundreds of people would transform a lot in south Philadelphia into a frenetic re-enactment of their ancestors’ glory: the great battle of May 5, 1862, when the Mexican army defeated French invaders.
Revelers would squeeze onto the grass between low-slung apartment blocks, dancing beneath a colorful explosion of muskets, flags, feathers and masks.
No one re-enacted the subsequent battle of 1863 – when the French came back, won and occupied Mexico.
This year, they won’t be celebrating anything.
After immigration raids across the country and reports of White House deportation plans, Philadelphia’s largest Cinco de Mayo celebration has been canceled.
“Everyone’s pretty much afraid because they’re saying that, basically, ICE is just going to come in out of nowhere,” resident Florencia Gonzalez told NBC 10 on a quiet, wet street that El Carnaval de Puebla used to fill in late April.
Even Mayor Jim Kenney was bummed. “I’m devastated to hear that ICE has had such a chilling effect that Philadelphians no longer feel comfortable engaging in this public celebration,” he told the news station.
An ICE official told the station that the agency “does not conduct sweeps or raids that target aliens indiscriminately.”
But many immigrants have been in a state of panic after news of operations such as a nationwide sweep that detained 700 people in one day or the public arrest of a Los Angeles man near his daughter’s school.
And after promising during the 2016 campaign to deport millions of people who were in the country illegally, Trump’s administration has proposed hiring thousands of new immigration agents, building a border wall and speeding up removals.
An organizer told NBC 10 that up to 15,000 people used to watch the festival in years past, as hundreds of marchers paraded through south Philadelphia’s streets.
“We have people who travel all the way from Chicago, Connecticut and New York,” Edgar Ramirez said. “We don’t want anything to happen to them.”
So organizers unanimously decided to cancel.
An official with the Mexican Consulate tried to calm the community’s fears, NBC reported.
A carnival founder told Al Día News that the cancellation was not strictly a matter of caution – but also meant to “raise a voice of protest” against the White House’s immigration policies.
In any event, as this year’s anniversary of the Battle of Puebla rolls around, an empty city block will remain just that.
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Avi Selk