Victor Huyke clearly saw the parallels between 1862 and today.
One of the main organizers of Saturday’s family-run Cinco de Mayo festival on the south side of Milwaukee, Huyke spoke about the roots of the holiday – the Mexican army’s 1862 victory over France in the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War. Then he spoke of the struggle of the Ukrainian people to defend their lives and their homes against an invading Russian army.
“France had a strong army that kept advancing towards Mexico, but when they got to Puebla, the Mexican general got help from the farmers living there, and they won,” Huyke said. “What we learned from this is that despite overwhelming odds, people can achieve anything.”
Huyke, the publisher of El Conquistador Latino newspaper, said Cinco de Mayo is a celebration not just of a country, but of the human spirit.
And so on Saturday, the celebration was dedicated to the Ukrainian people. El Conquistador and UMOS, a Milwaukee-based advocacy organization supporting housing, child development, and social services for underserved populations, hosted it at UMOS headquarters.
The festival included food trucks, music, competitions, a car show and a carnival. It also included a booth sponsored by St. Michael’s Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, where Nadiya Kavyuk and other church members sold homemade cookies, Ukrainian Easter eggs and jewelry, with all proceeds going to to support the victims and refugees of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“We have been collecting money and sending supplies to Ukrainians since the war started,” Kavyuk said. “But this is the first community event we’ve attended. We’re so grateful to be included.”
Although the day is celebrated in Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is not, as many Americans think, Mexican Independence Day. The celebration has actually become more popular in America than in Mexico, as many see it as a way to celebrate Mexican culture.
“The victory was not celebrated in Mexico at first, but rather by Mexican Americans as a form of resistance to the effects of the Mexican-American War. The celebration later gained momentum during the Chicano Movement in the 1960s and 1970s,” according to a recent USA TODAY interview with Mario Garcia, a Chicanx historian from the University of California, Santa Barbara.
For Ukrainians at the Milwaukee Festival on Saturday, this theme of resistance is felt on a daily basis.
As other St. Michael’s members continued to accept donations from festival-goers, Kavyuk scrolled through a group messaging app on her phone. Kavyuk, who has lived in the United States for 16 years, has family members living in Ukraine who are on the app.
A message was from a relative who heard sirens and wondered where his father was. Another was sent from an air raid shelter. Another was sent in the middle of the night. On the other side of the world, Kavyuk was reading, feeling the emotions of his homeland.
“Imagine, you wake up to hear this and you just have to go… to a bomb shelter,” she said.
As Kavyuk put away her phone to accept more donations, she noted the similarity between her family members fighting to stay in their homes and the struggle of the Mexican people 160 years ago.
“I’m grateful that we’re here and supporting each other,” Kavyuk said. “We need to learn more about each other. What is Cinco de Mayo? It’s about fighting for your home and achieving victory.”