We’ve all heard of Cinco de Mayo, especially here in Arcadia. But where did it come from, what does it mean and how is it celebrated today?

Cinco de Mayo is held May 5 (Fifth of May). It’s a date celebrating victory of the Mexican Army over the French in 1862 at the battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War. Well, here’s the story from one of our community leaders, Rufino H. Rodriguez, who for years helped coordinate the Cinco de Mayo celebration in Arcadia.

Rufino Rodriguez started a career in broadcasting in Mexico. In 1990, he moved to Los Angeles, where he got a job as a TV and radio announcer. Several years later he was asked to open a radio station here in Immokalee. From there he moved to Fort Myers to radio station La Caliente, 1400AM, then to Radio Fiesta, 1380AM in West Palm Beach, and finally to Arcadia at WZSP/105.3 as program director.

“That was 20 years ago,” he said of the timeline.

Fast-forward to a few months ago, and Rufino was on the campaign trail introducing Andrés Manuel López Obrador in Huaquechula Puebla, Puebla City, in his run for Mexico’s president. Rufino would lend his considerable media talent and resource network in support of the newly elected president.

And even in all that excitement in his home country, Rufino recalls with great sentiment some 19 years ago when he became involved with Cinco de Mayo in Arcadia. At the radio station he promoted the festival to his listeners. He believes that it’s important for Mexican adults and children in the United States to remember their heritage. This is one reason why he took charge of the event for so many years in Arcadia.

“Back then,” he said, “the people came together on Cinco de Mayo for parades, horseback riding, they dressed in authentic costumes that were worn 100 years ago. There were dancers, we even brought live bands from Mexico; Musica de Marachi and Musica de Banda.

“We had a Cinco de Mayo beauty contest with dozens of contestants, the only rules were age limits and the young girls had to have a Mexican father. In addition to advocating Cinco de Mayo, Rufino avidly promoted American football to the Hispanic community through his radio presence and during the time he worked for a Miami newspaper.

During that same period Rufino also brought teachers and books from Mexico to teach local kids about their Mexican heritage.

“We had sometimes 20 to 25 children in a class learning about the culture of their homeland. Whether it’s learning about your heritage, math, or English, education is extremely important. Education allows a person to make choices for what they want to do with their lives,” he said.

Rufino H. Rodriguez is a man who has a vision. Cinco de Mayo was an event that brought our community together in Arcadia through festivals, food, and an awareness of culture. We need more of this in Arcadia.

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