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The outside of a 1972 Chevy Camaro rests in the parking lot at Sierra High School.

At one point during El Cinco de Mayo Inc’s 37th annual Summer Festival and Car Show, Amy Sanchez-Martinez surveyed the crowd at Sierra High School. 

As she looked around, her radiant energy simmered down to tranquility as she nodded and smiled while watching people enjoy the atmosphere. 

The festival was cancelled in 2020 because of COVID, but it came back with energy and enthusiasm this year at the Sierra High School parking lot.

Sanchez-Martinez, who is the Sand Creek High School principal, understands the significance of the event and its benefits to the community. 

“We’re a very communal culture and not being able to come together and celebrate and break bread and take part in this with one another was hard,” Sanchez-Martinez said. “But it didn’t miss a beat. Everyone is back together, and this is nice to have.”

Sanchez-Martinez emceed the event and reiterated her gratitude for El Cinco de Mayo and their ability to resume the event this year. 

The fundraiser generated more than $12,000 in scholarship funds for local students to assist with college costs.  

On their website, elcincodemayo.org, the group has a list of nine criteria individuals must meet to qualify for a scholarship. Those include students who: 

Fall within the definition of “underserved” (someone who does not have the financial resources and/or has inadequate support, guidance, assistance and/or would be the first in their family to attend/graduate from college; and/or who is facing adversity in life due to their socioeconomic situation).

Plan to (or currently) attend a higher education institution in El Paso County and/or be a resident of El Paso County in Colorado. 

Have a cumulative grade point average of 3.0 or better.

Linda Jaworski, El Cinco de Mayo Inc. chairperson, said she’s grateful for the event’s return. Not only to help serve students but to keep community adults engaged in a worthwhile endeavor.

“That’s what drives us to keep doing what we do — to be able to raise money for these scholarships and meet these kids,” Jaworski said. “We form these relationships with these young adults and they’re our future. I’m thankful that they’re so grateful and to see that and have that relationship with them is what drives us to keep raising money and for these students.” 

Volunteers also want the event to operate as a haven for some attendees, which is why many of the program speakers made their presentations in both Spanish and English. 

“You are not alone. You have your entire community with you. … Siempre tienes a tu raza, ya tu gente contigo,” Sanchez-Martinez said. 

“We like to think of this as a safe place for people. That’s what my hope is,” Sanchez-Martinez said. “A lot of the people here today are my people – they’re Mexican-American or Mestizo. A lot of times we call ourselves Mestizos, which means mixed. It’s a little bit of everything. I’m hoping many other members of our Latino community; our brothers and sisters from Mexico, the Caribbean and from South America…everybody can come together. Everyone is welcomed here. And that’s what’s important.” 

Providing that comfort led El Cinco de Mayo to deliver a smorgasbord of events at their festival. 

“There’s the car and bike culture, our traditional dancing, native dancing, mariachi. There’s a little bit of everything,” Sanchez-Martinez said. “Events like this really help to demonstrate the subcultures within our community.”  

Ballet Folklórico de la Raza stole the show with their dances and vibrant dresses. 

On several occasions, attendees who saw the dancers en route to the car show stopped and said, “I really love that dress.” 

Connie Benavidez crafted the dresses displayed during Ballet Folklórico de la Raza’s dance routines. 

Benavidez, who founded the group in 1994, created each dress by hand and her daughter, Gloria, beamed when speaking about each one. 

“You see the decorations in their hair?” said Gloria, as she pointed to a bow on one of the dancers, “My mom made that too. It takes her about 12-16 hours to do all of this. She still loves working on all of this.

“All the dancers call her grandma. This is like (my mom’s) extended family.”  

Those who sought other experiences had the car show, which attracted drivers from Colorado Springs, Monument, Pueblo and Canon City. 

Jawzzzz, a 2006 GMC Canyon owned by City Wide Car Club, captured the attention of many. The truck was emblazoned with green, gold and white and a skull on the right side of the vehicle. 

Much of the dashboard featured black and white designs and a few four-leaf clovers on the passenger side of the vehicle. 

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Members of Grupo Xochitl perform dances and prayers at the event. 

To add to the lore of the name and, perhaps to give people a jolt, passersby heard the wail of the car’s horn while peering at the truck. 

Others chose to marvel at classic vehicles not as bedazzled as Jawzzz, like James McGraw’s 1963 Lincoln Continental. He said he customized “just about everything” on the car from the engine to the interior down to the lining on the seats. 

“I built this from scratch about nine years ago and I’ve been driving it for about four years now,” he said. “I absolutely love how it functions.” 

Sanchez-Martinez said she enjoyed the blending of events and the melting pot of cultures and interests. 

“This is the most diverse part of town and so often I think there are various groups who don’t want to come out of their own part of town,” Sanchez-Martinez said. “Some don’t go anywhere else and don’t see who we are and what everyone has to offer. And a lot of that is right here.” 

From elaborate dresses to souped-up vehicles, the show was a visual paradise. Carmen Abeyta, El Cinco de Mayo Inc. treasurer, said they’re already looking forward to next year’s 38th edition of the event. 

“We’ve already started for next year,” Abeyta said. “We’ve already got things in motion. Last year, we were in the middle of the pandemic and didn’t know what the situation would be. We try to do this around May 5. … Now, we’re going back to our schedule. We already have the date, we have the schedule, we’re on it. We’re excited we’re so far ahead and get to welcome folks back next year.” 

Reporter

Marcus Hill is a reporter for the Southeast Express and Schriever Sentinel. He graduated from Colorado State University-Pueblo in 2012 with a degree in Mass Communication.