Concerns about immigration crackdown upend a decade-old celebration

Photo courtesy of Carnaval de Puebla/Philatinos Radio

Photo courtesy of Carnaval de Puebla/Philatinos Radio

Carnaval de Puebla Canceled

by Nancy Chen

Carnaval de Puebla, among the most prominent public celebrations of Mexican culture in Philadelphia, will be canceled this year. Organizers stated via the Carnaval de Puebla Facebook page that they took action because of the climate of uncertainty for members of Mexican-American communities: They didn’t want to expose participants—especially those traveling from out of state or from Mexico—to unnecessary risks in the face of recent immigration crackdowns.

Philadelphia’s 10-year-old Carnaval stems from a 150-year-old Mexican tradition that originated in the Puebla region of Central Mexico. The carnavaleros in the parade wear elaborate costumes that represent different battalions in the historic Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, in which the Mexican army defeated the invading French. Most people have heard of Cinco de Mayo, but not many know that the holiday honors this historic victory for Mexico.

Many of the intricate costumes are handmade and shipped from Mexico. The elaborately detailed and hand-stitched garments, masks and headgear include three-dimensional sculptural components such as fruits and taxidermied animals draped across the backs of the carnavaleros.

According to Edgar Ramirez, a member of Carnaval’s organizing committee who also runs the Philatinos internet radio station, the majority of participants in the Carnaval de Puebla come from the Region de los Volcanes in Puebla, which includes the city of Huejotzingo. For the Philadelphia parade, there are around 400 carnavaleros, more than half of whom come from outside Philadelphia—from the cities in that region and from around the U.S.

Many local participants are workers in the restaurant industry in Philly, ranging from busboys to head chefs such as David Piña of Tamalex and Dionicio Jimenez of El Rey.

The public statement announcing the cancellation explained: “Carnaval is so important because it signifies the representation of our community [in Philadelphia], the mixing of cultures and knowledge that contributes to the development of this city... For the past 10 years, through great challenges and with pride, we have shared our traditions with our neighbors. But under these sad circumstances, there does not seem to be an environment conducive to joyful celebration. Our community is focused on other priorities, and we do not want to increase risk to safety or well-being.”

According to the Migration Policy Institute, out of an estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S., 6.2 million are estimated to come from Mexico. Within the total unauthorized population, 60 percent have been here for at least a decade. The Trump administration’s focus on deporting unauthorized immigrants has left many uneasy about doing anything that might draw the attention of Immigration and Customs Enforcement authorities, including simply going out in public—or even seeking medical attention.

In the absence of the parade, organizers will dedicate their time and energy to joining community activities that advocate for the rights of Mexican immigrants. Ramirez told Grid, “On this occasion, our organization will join the efforts of other groups and organizations so that our community’s rights are respected. Our work, culture and ideas, and our contributions to the economy must be taken into account.”