The trumpets and often sorrowful vocals of mariachi could be heard downtown Saturday as dozens celebrated Cinco de Mayo with tasty food, margaritas and dancing.

The sudden downpours and wind did little to dampen the celebratory occasion. People huddled together under canopy tents outside and purchased tacos as others were inside the Astoria Event Center listening intently to the five-piece band.

It was the first fiesta and festival held for the holiday in Astoria by the Lower Columbia Hispanic Council. Jorge Gutierrez, executive director of the organization, said the event offered a cultural experience for Hispanics and the broader community to interact and get to know each other better.

"What better way than with some good food, drink and entertainment," he said.

The event was sponsored by the city of Astoria, Northwest Health Foundation and Coastal Family Health Center. The afternoon included salsa dance lessons, children's folk dancing and a best-tasting salsa competition.

Mariachi Corona Continental, a Seaside-based group, entertained the crowd with heartfelt songs played with two trumpets, violin, guitar and a larger guitar known as a guitarron. Members of the crowd came up and requested songs.

"We play what they want to hear," said Juan Carlos Corona Jr., whose father is the band's representative. Corona said the band often goes to Portland and Gresham playing birthday parties, weddings and more. The group has been playing together for four years.

Today is the official day of the holiday. Cinco de Mayo has become ever more popular in the United States compared to Mexico. The day marks the anniversary of when the occupying French were defeated by the Mexican army at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. It is an occasion that celebrates Mexican culture and heritage.

A taste of culture

Saturday's cultural event included plenty of flavorful food that most associate with Mexico. Local restaurants served up specialties that included tamales, tacos al pastor and carne asada, enchiladas and more.

Sara Maya, with Monte Alban Restaurant in Astoria, was busy at work frying up freshly pressed tortillas and chicken and beef.

"We make everything fresh and homemade," Maya said. The restaurant is having a Cinco de Mayo party with live music today from 5 to 9 p.m.

Beer was provided by recently opened Buoy Beer and attendees could also purchase margaritas and soft drinks.

After Mariachi Corona Continental finished a set, Jeri Johnson and her son gave salsa dancing lessons for anyone who was interested.

Amid the many other activities, three judges assessed nine different homemade salsas in a contest to determine which was the best tasting.

Cornelio Gonzalez, a host for the Sonidos Latinos KMUN radio program, was one of the judges and said most of them were very good. The winner was Benita Guzman. She was awarded a $50 gift certificate provided by Buoy Beer. Other judges were Alana Gardner and Dolores Villareal.

This story originally appeared in Daily Astorian.


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