Mariachi melodies would be filling the air at parades and parties across the Rio Grande Valley, from morning to night. Children would be coming to school adorned in red, white and green attire, with some wearing full-on traditional folklorico outfits. In the evening, families would gather to celebrate the holiday they have commemorated for generations: Cinco de Mayo.
Celebrations will look different this year, though.
Oscar Guajardo, manager of London’s Grill and Tavern in McAllen, noted that this year, Cinco de Mayo lands on Taco Tuesday — something that would have otherwise been a match made in business heaven.
“It’s Taco Tuesday tomorrow, which would’ve been the perfect day: tacos and Mexican beer,” he said.
Guajardo said Cinco de Mayo would normally lead to business picking up, if it wasn’t for the coronavirus prompting public health restrictions that force establishments to open at just 25% capacity.
Since the restaurant had to switch gears to curbside pick-up, Guajardo said sales have gone down about 95%.
In addition to food specials, London’s usually commemorates Cinco de Mayo by selling Mexican-crafted beer. But since businesses across the country have also had to brace for the slowing economy due to pandemic sheltering protocols, Guajardo has not had much time to think about how his restaurant would celebrate the holiday this year.
Alongside St. Patrick’s Day, he added, Cinco de Mayo is one of the restaurant’s busiest days.
“We’re just taking it day by day,” Guajardo said. “We have the taco special on Taco Tuesday anyway, but business isn’t going to be what it was before — we’re not going to sell as many as we would.”
Analisa Luna, general manager of Suerte Bar and Grill Uptown in McAllen, said Cinco de Mayo is also one of their busiest days of the year, and the restaurant usually celebrates with meal and drink specials. Specifically, taco specials.
“With the days lining up, of Taco Tuesday and Cinco de Mayo, we were excited because we thought we were going to have some great big party,” Luna said. “It was going to be a big event.”
Instead, the Mexican-themed restaurant will be holding a “curbside fiesta” on Tuesday, in which taco platters of 25 will be sold for $25, and a Suerte sampler for the same price. They will also be selling festive margaritas and piñatas, and customers can also listen to a special Spotify playlist they made.
“So they can feel like they are right at Suerte,” Luna said.
Luna added that the holiday, which commemorates the Mexican army’s 1862 victory at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War, supports Suerte’s mission of honoring Mexican culture.
“It has always been really important to us,” she said. “We are proud of the Valley and whatever comes with it.”
As health officials continue to encourage the community to practice social distancing, people can not embrace each other with hugs or host large parties, but locals are still finding ways to embrace the spirit of the holiday.
David Valley, a McAllen resident, said that he remembers going to his uncle’s ranch in San Juan on Cinco de Mayo when he was growing up.
“All the cousins would come, and they would bring other people with them too,” he recalled. “We would all gather there on the ranch, and all the kids would be playing with the goats and everything, not knowing that we were going to eat them later on.”
While laughing, he added: “I would eat it later too, with tears though, because it was so delicious.”
He also remembers his uncles playing Tejano music loudly while cooking barbecue.
Now 39, most of his family moved to Washington state, so he usually commemorates the holiday by inviting friends for dinner. This year, he’s only making barbecue for him and his girlfriend, and plans to give his parents in Pharr a call. If not for the pandemic, he would have instead paid them a visit.
“Now it’s a bit different because we are all isolated,” he said. “We can go out now, sort of, but it still feels weird to go out in public and have a good time, so I probably won’t be doing that.
“I am hoping that with all of this, we can get more control and move on, but it is something we have to wait for. We will get through this though, and hopefully a year from now, we can be celebrating the way we are used to.”
Monitor staff writer Francisco E. Jiménez contributed to this report.