Since time immemorial Cermak Rd. has connected various neighborhoods and immigrant groups in Chicago, and for about 40 years has been the host of a Cinco de Mayo parade that goes from Pilsen to Marshall Square in Little Village. That is, until last year when the parade was cancelled for the first time; while this year showed no signs that it would be coming back.
A parade is still happening, though, but it’s not the same one.
The Cermak Road Chamber of Commerce, headed by Hector Escobar, has been the usual organizer of the Cinco de Mayo parade and the festival in Douglas Park. Last year, he cancelled the events alleging that Ald. George Cardenas was sabotaging his plans in an effort to “take control” of special events in the eastern section of Little Village that falls in his ward.
He showed a 2014 letter that the alderman wrote to the Department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events, indicating in bold letters that he was not in support of the Cinco de Mayo events put together by Escobar’s organization, though the letter did not specify why.
Cardenas acknowledged he sent the letter due to the lackluster organization of the events, but said his office did not intervene in cancelling the parade. “We don’t cancel anything,” Cardenas said at the time. “... We’re simply a resource to make sure people are safe.”
This time, Escobar says that another organization, the Midwest Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, submitted a competing application for a Cinco de Mayo parade along the same route and a festival in the same location.
In an April 18 email to Escobar, the city confirmed that “Yes, two Special Events applications have been received for the Cinco de Mayo Festival.”
As a result, the head of the Special Events Committee, Ald. Tom Tunney, would call a hearing to determine which organization would be allowed to proceed, according to the email.
Escobar claims he could not obtain further information on said hearing.
He ended up withdrawing his application, director of special events Jennifer Johnson Washington confirmed by phone, but did not elaborate. The parade coordinator could not be reached by El Arco/ChicagoNow for clarification.
On Friday morning, Ald. Cardenas put out a press release announcing that the festivities would still take place, not on May 5th, which this year falls on a Sunday, but next weekend.
“The Midwest Hispanic Chamber of Commerce secured letters of support by local organizations and elected officials in the surrounding area,” the statement said. “The appropriate community outreach was conducted, and residents are looking forward to a wonderful, weekend-long celebration.”
The Midwest Hispanic Chamber of Commerce has held in past years a Cinco de Mayo parade on Archer Ave. and a festival at McKinley Park, within Cardenas’ ward.
Escobar accused Ald. Cardenas of helping to found or otherwise supporting competing organizations. Cardenas' office did not address the allegations in emails.
“Él era como mi hijo, hasta me lo llevaba a México [He was like my son, I would take him with me to Mexico],” he lamented over the phone.
The power struggle seems far from over as Escobar intends on finding a solution to reinstate the traditional parade in the future.
The new Cinco de Mayo parade is scheduled for May 12th at noon, starting at Cermak & Damen and ending in Marshall Blvd. The festival will run all weekend, May 9-12, at Douglas Park.
Major sponsors include Jarritos, Tequila El Nacimiento, Telemundo Chicago, La Ley 107.9, and Metro by T-Mobile.