South Philadelphia is losing a tradition this year, as the annual Carnaval de Puebla — a celebration rooted in the culture of the Puebla area in Mexico — has been cancelled amid concerns of heightened activity from immigration officers.
“This is like the Mexican Mummers Parade,” said Karenina Wolff, co-founder of the South Philadelphia Latino Business Community Association, about the annual event.
The South Philly celebration was reputed to be the largest Carnaval de Puebla outside of Mexico.
“That celebration is not happening,” Wolff said. “We will be missing it this year, but the organizers felt that we needed to be responsible.”
Instead, the community will be holding Paseo de Cinco de Mayo, or a Stroll on Cinco de Mayo, where Latino-owned businesses located along Ninth and Ellsworth streets in South Philadelphia will hold a day of live music and events for children, with Mexican cuisine offered to all who attend.
“This is the South Philadelphia business community, and we think this [the Paseo] will be a good way to promote Latino businesses,” she said.
Wolff said that this part of South Philly is heavily populated by those who have immigrated from the Puebla area of Mexico, southeast of Mexico City. Locals wanted to hold a traditional celebration, but organizers decided earlier this year to curb those plans, as they started to see U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement stepping up deportation efforts under President Donald Trump.
She said that organizers weighed concerns of possible public drunkenness — much like at the Mummers Parade — with the fear that, with one phone call, a single complaint could send immigration agents into the community during the festival. They ultimately decided it would be better to provide an alternative event.
“It’s unfortunate that if you’re an immigrant, especially an undocumented immigrant, you can’t really get drunk,” she said. “Getting arrested for public drunkenness is one thing, but if you’re going to get deported and separated from your family and lose your job … that’s another thing entirely.”
Juan Carlos Huerta, owner of Philly Tacos, is helping to organize the Paseo de Cinco de Mayo. He said the stroll will be an opportunity to invite Philadelphians and others into the community and share some of what makes the neighborhood great.
"As Latino small-business owners, we are not the problem. I think we are part of the solution," he said, commenting on ICE concerns. "We are going to demonstrate we are not a problem. We want to work with the city, we want to work with the neighborhood, we want to bring something to the country."
And, while they will need to forego the traditional Carnaval event, Wolff said the stroll will be a great Cinco de Mayo celebration, with live music and delicious food for everyone to enjoy.
“It’s going to be a much more chill event,” she said. “It will be an opportunity. If you care about immigrants, come and support an immigrant business.”
Paseo de Cinco de Mayo will be held at the intersection of Ninth and Ellsworth streets May 5 from 4-8 p.m.