After 16 years, East Harlem Cinco de Mayo Festival a No-Go

The annual Cinco de Mayo festival organized by CECOMEX, a Mexican organization in New York headed by Sandra Pérez (center), will not take place this year after being denied a permit by city officials. (Photo via El Diario-La Prensa)

Disheartened by the cancellation of the Cinco de Mayo festival, which has been happening for more than a decade, Mexican residents and business owners of El Barrio expressed their frustration.

This year, people will not celebrate the commemoration of the Battle of Puebla along 116th Street. The city denied permits to the organizers, claiming they submitted their application after the deadline.

For 16 years, CECOMEX (Centro de la Comunidad Mexicana/Center for the Mexican Community) has been managing the festival, which runs from Lexington Avenue to Second Avenue. CECOMEX was founded by Juan Cáceres, who was sentenced to seven years in prison in 2011 for rape in the second degree, among other charges.

With Cáceres facing jail time, Sandra Pérez assumed the leadership of CECOMEX. She has been coordinating for a year the Cinco de Mayo event and also the Mexican Independence Day festival, which has been tarnished following several arrests after a dispute among gangs.

“The city received the application for permits after the deadline; the organizers submitted it too late,” said Debbie Quiñones, chairwoman of the Cultural Affairs Committee of Community Board 11. “The failure to follow several rules, such as security matters, contributed to authorities declining to renew the permits.”

She added that the organizers didn’t attend any public hearings to express their position and didn’t ask for support from the community board.

Rev. Pedro Prado of the First Baptist Church said that an inadequate distribution of portable toilets upset some of his church members during festivals in the past.

Business owners along 116th Street and Mexican residents of El Barrio expressed their disappointment.

“It means a big economic loss for small businesses,” said Jaime Mejía, owner of the Hot Jalapeño restaurant. “I had taken the necessary precautions to accommodate the highest number of clients possible. I was expecting to make good sales.”

Irma García, a food vendor who has participated in the festival since it began, appeared worried. “It’s hard to find a space a few days before the festivities starts. I didn’t find out about the [permit] situation until a little while ago,” said García, who was paying $600 for her spot.

Business owners along 116th Street were surprised about the cancelation.

Laura Lezama, owner of the bodega El Pueblo Mexicano, said the negative impact won’t only affect the economy of this major thoroughfare.

“The community loved the festival very much. It became a tradition and it’s very sad to lose it. It was already part of our identity,” she said.

The CECOMEX offices on 110 Street were vacant. Multiple calls to Sandra Pérez, the organization’s director, were not returned.

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  1. Pingback: NY's Cinco de Mayo Celebrations Back on Track - Voices of NY

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