Cinco de Mayo parade rolls on despite immigration angst

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Detroit — The Cinco de Mayo celebration in southwest Detroit on Sunday became more than the annual observance of the Mexican army’s win over the French in the Battle of Puebla.

As cars lined Vernor and the Patton Park area in anticipation of the parade that has historically drawn tens of thousands, many participants had messages of their own they wanted to amplify.

Jose Franco, 29, founder of One Michigan for Immigrant Rights, an advocacy organization for immigration issues, brought several supporters along who wore shirts that said, “Do I look illegal?” and a banner that said, “Undocumented, Unafraid, Unapologetic.”

Concerns about the country’s immigration policy and fears of deportation have heightened since the election of President Donald Trump, who took a hard stance during the campaign and referred to some Mexican immigrants as “bad hombres.”

Both federal law enforcement and the Detroit Police Department have said in recent weeks that there would be no need to fear mass immigration checks during the parade. Last month, Chief James Craig said he wasn’t interested in his officers doing immigration enforcement, and a local spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement said Homeland Security doesn’t do sweeps or raids, but targeted enforcement actions.

Those assurances left Franco “relieved, but vigilant,” he said Sunday, more than an hour before festivities began. Franco said there hasn’t necessarily been more local immigration enforcement in the months since Trump took office, but that enforcement actions have been more “amplified” in the community than in years past.

He said One Michigan’s presence at the parade was to help people “know they’re not alone.”

With temperatures in the low 50s, crowds began lining the path from Patton Park to Clark Park hours before the parade’s noon start.

Detroit police had a heavy presence with patrol cruisers sitting in front of many of the barricades, preventing traffic from side streets from turning onto Vernor.

Minutes before the parade started, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan appeared at Woodmere and Vernor, the beginning of the parade route. Supporters approached and took pictures. Some held up neighborhood-centric signs, such as “Rouge Park for Duggan,” “North End for Duggan,” and “Mexicantown for Duggan,” signaling their support for his re-election this year.

“I come out every year to celebrate Mexican heritage,” Duggan said.

Cinco de Mayo might not have much resonance south of the border, said Detroit City Councilwoman Raquel Castaneda-Lopez, who represents the neighborhood, but since the days of the civil rights movement, it has been a day Mexican-Americans heavily identify with.

Castaneda-Lopez called southwest Detroit a “melting pot,” a place “where immigrants have historically settled” in the city.

“We’re not just food and restaurants,” she said.

It is that heritage Christine Rendon, 30, who lives in the neighborhood, has taken part in celebrating, attending Cinco de Mayo parades every year of her life.

Her attendance Sunday required taking a day off from the bakery where she works. Rendon brought her daughter, Celia, a toddler, for her first parade, ensuring the tradition continues to a new generation.

In the past, crowds of 40,000 people have shown up. But the parade has had tough times in recent years. A fight in 2009 and a fatal shooting in 2014 raised questions about whether the parade should continue.

Southwest Detroit has “calmed down a lot since police stepped in,” Rendon said, referring to the recent violence. On Sunday, she had no such concerns, but did have a plan: follow the celebration to Clark Park, then onto Mexicantown for tacos.

Just as advertised, the parade wrapped an hour after it started with a Detroit police car pulling up the rear and families pulling up stakes as the car passed by.