Archive for Thursday, April 21, 2005

Cinco de Mayo fete called off this year

April 21, 2005

The De Soto Cinco de Mayo celebration won't return this year to enliven the first weekend in May.

Duke Neeland, who helped launch the local celebration of the Mexican holiday in 2000 as a member of the De Soto City Council and had helped coordinate it since, said it became apparent in the last month that no one would step forward to replace himself and Tony Valenzuela as the event's top organizer.

"Tony and I both wanted to step back a bit," he said. "We both wanted to help. We hoped to get one of the younger guys to pick up the pace, and we would help.

"We should have made contacts with the city months ago, and those contacts didn't happen. It got too late to put things together."

The event scheduled for the Saturday nearest May 5 started with a downtown parade before moving on to a full afternoon and evening of activities at the De Soto Community Center. The parade was always well received, but Neeland said in recent years the celebration struggled to attract De Soto residents from outside the Hispanic community to the Community Center.

"I really don't know why that is," he said. "We had the food vendors, mariachi bands, and the kids dancers. The same people who will go to Lenexa or some other place for food at a festival wouldn't come to our own Community Center.

"We fought criticism and stayed in there and stayed focussed. There were a lot of people who enjoyed it."

Neeland said he had received a number of phone calls from those expressing disappointment the celebration was off for this year. Neeland said he, too, was disappointed because he felt the celebration served an important function.

"We looked forward to helping with it, because it was so important to bridge some of the cultural differences in the community," he said.

In his case, that was certainly true, Neeland said. He has developed many friendships with those in the Hispanic community, especially Valenzuela.

Neeland said he and others hadn't given up on the celebration. He hoped it could return next year with some alterations. A past member of the De Soto Days Festival Committee, Neeland said the Cinco de Mayo Celebration seemed to demand too many fund-raisers and separate activities that wore volunteers out.

"Tony and I we've talked about what about next year," he said. "We still have money in the bank to do something next year.

"I hope there's some ways to pick up the pieces. Gosh, if we could just get some more people involved in it. We certainly give everybody another chance next year and give it another shot."

There was also talk more direct involvement of the Hispanic community in De Soto Days, especially in conjunction with the city's 150-year anniversary, Neeland said.

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