What’s most immediately striking about Yakima’s downtown Cinco de Mayo event each year is how overwhelming it is for all five senses.

You walk into the festival area and you’re hit with music, color, the smells and tastes of food and the reverberations of thousands of people walking, dancing and singing. Over here, you see dancing horses, down the block seasoned pork sizzles on a grill, next to that a crowd gathers for a popular Mexican band, and just past that there’s a car show with classic vehicles lifted, customized and painted candy red, blue or orange. The crowd, which organizers say this year will total 15,000 to 20,000 over two days, pulses along with the many attractions, giving the impression that the air itself is thick with celebration.

“Every year is bigger and bigger,” says Nestor Hernandez, president of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Yakima County, which coordinates the event. “We work very hard to make it bigger, and every year we get more people involved.”

Historically, Cinco de Mayo events developed as a way of commemorating the 1862 Battle of Puebla, in which the outnumbered Mexican army defeated the French during the War of French Intervention in Mexico. In contemporary America, they serve more as a celebration of Mexican pride and a way of sharing culture.

“It’s a glimpse of our culture,” says Hernandez, a local real estate broker and Realtor. “We have a variety of food and entertainment and there are a lot of information booths to promote businesses in the Spanish (speaking) community.”

The Sunday car show, which this year will feature 150 vehicles, is always a highlight and, like the celebration itself, is still growing.

“Our Sunday car show is going to be twice as big as last year,” Hernandez says.

And the recently added youth and adult street soccer tournaments have drawn teams from throughout the state. In its third year as part of the Yakima celebration, the five-on-five tournament on enclosed street “fields” is known for its fast pace relative to standard soccer.

The biggest draw of all, according to Hernandez, is the music. People come from all over the Northwest to hear bands such as La Sentencia de Tuzantla, Michoacan. The event has gotten so big that bands are reaching out to the organizers just to get slots on stage, he says.

“We get calls from people all the way in Mexico who want to participate,” Hernandez says.

Sunnyside, too!

The Cinco de Mayo festival in Yakima, now in its 12th year, may be bigger at this point, but the celebration in the Lower Valley city of Sunnyside long held the title of the biggest in the state, no small accomplishment considering the population was still shy of 16,000 at the time of the 2010 U.S. Census.

That festival, now in its 25th year, still draws thousands each year to downtown Sunnyside. This year’s Sunnyside Cinco de Mayo boasts more than 125 vendors, live music, dancing and food. And it starts Friday, a full day earlier than the Yakima event.




9 a.m. to 6 p.m.: Soccer tournament

10 a.m.: Opening ceremony, color guard, veterans recognition

10:15 a.m.: Introduction of Cinco de Mayo royalty

10:45 a.m.: Sponsors recognition

11 a.m.: McKinley Folkloric Dancers

11:30 a.m.: Youth entertainment

Noon: Bailadores del Sol

1 p.m.: Talent show competition

2:30 p.m.: Bailadores del Sol

3:30 to 6:30 p.m.: Live music

6:30 p.m.: Live music, youth-oriented salsa and meringue


9 a.m. to 4 p.m.: Soccer tournament

10 a.m.: Opening ceremony

10:15 a.m.: Introduction of Miss Cinco de Mayo

10:30 a.m.: McKinley Folkloric Dancers

11 a.m.: Energia Michoacana (live music)

Noon: Banda Reyna del Sur (live music)

Noon to 5 p.m.: Car show

1 p.m.: El Tuzo Martinez (live music)

1 p.m.: Charro parade

1:30 p.m.: Horse show

2 p.m.: Miss Cinco de Mayo coronation

2 p.m.: Furia de Arranque (live music)

3 p.m.: El Jefe de Santa Clara (live music)

4 p.m. Los Nuevos Prisoneros (live music)

5 p.m.: Corazon Norteno with Rossina Silva (live music)

6 p.m.: Hector Montemayor (live music)



Noon: Vendor booths open

5:30 p.m.: Fiscales de Tierra Caliente (live music)

6:15 p.m.: Ilusion Musical (live music)

7:15 p.m.: Banda Perla Azteca (live music)


10 a.m.: Vendor booths open

10 a.m.: Regal Majesty Pageant

1 p.m.: Folkloric dancers

2 p.m.: Groupo Viajero (live music)

2:45 p.m.: Corazon de T.C. (live music)

3:30 p.m.: Edgar y su Banda Traviesa (live music)

4:15 p.m.: Donato Tirado (live music)

5:15 p.m.: Meztizo Musical

6:15 p.m.: Banda el Centenario (live music)

7:15 p.m.: Principio de Tierra Caliente (live music)


10 a.m.: Vendor booths open

Noon: Cinco de Mayo parade

Noon: Charro competition in Central Park

1 p.m.: Folkloric dancers

2 p.m.: Banda Koritas (live music)

3 p.m.: Tormenta de Durango (live music)

4 p.m.: Tentacion (live music)

5 p.m.: Oro Norteno (live music)

6 p.m.: La Mar-k de Tierra Caliente (live music)

7 p.m.: La Raza Obrera (live music)