On May 5th—”Cinco de Mayo” in Spanish—nearly 1,000 children from Bay Area inner-city neighborhoods were treated to a day unlike any they had experienced before.
They were bussed to St. Mary’s Cathedral in San Francisco where they were treated to an original musical drama about Junípero Serra, the 18th century Franciscan who founded many early California missions. The play, Always Forward, featured costumed actors, live choruses, and dancers. The children were surprised and excited to see 8-foot puppets representing Spanish soldiers enter down the aisles.
A lesson on Serra and native peoples
When Serra became aware of the abusive way the Spanish soldiers treated the natives, he grew increasingly dismayed. The play dramatized how, in 1773, at the age of 60, Serra set out from Carmel for Mexico City—a journey of 2,000 miles—to protest this treatment. Once there, he presented demands to the Spanish viceroy on the natives’ behalf. The viceroy agreed to almost all of Serra’s proposals, thus creating the first significant body of laws governing early California. It has been referred to as Serra’s “bill of rights” for native Americans. It came 15 years before the Bill of Rights was added to the U.S. Constitution.
After the play, the children were given a bountiful “fiesta” featuring lunch, serenades by troubadours, dancing, crafts, games, talks with the play’s characters, face painting, and fresh flowers to arrange and take home.
The origin of Cinco de Mayo
The issue of “bullying” found voice when children joined actors to enact the May 5, 1862, Battle of Puebla, which is why Cinco de Mayo is celebrated today. The children portrayed the Mexican citizen-soldiers who defeated the much larger and elite French army, represented by giant 8-foot puppets. But that “army” couldn’t overcome the children who locked arms and found strength chanting, “Doubt and fear make us small; love and courage make us tall!”
A little known history is that the French army had been planning to travel north and support Confederate troops against Union forces in the U.S. Civil War. Had they succeeded in this battle, their support of the Confederacy might have changed the outcome of the Civil War.
Purpose of the day
This novel Cinco de Mayo event was presented by Francis in the Schools, a nonprofit group based in Walnut Creek that offers this new form of nonsectarian education for children from underserved neighborhoods. The program was founded in 2011 by Dr. Carol Weyland Conner as a way to nourish feelings of love, kindness, courage, and brotherhood in these children. This was the 20th time the program has been presented, having been staged for a total of 10,000 children in cities including Oakland, New York, Baltimore, and Washington, DC. Over 350 volunteers work for months to prepare and stage each event. The entire day—from the bus rides through the play, lunch, activities, and flowers—is offered free to the children and participating schools.
One educator wrote: “It was a magical day of beauty and learning and is a potentially life-changing event in the lives of our children. You provided our community with a wonderful combination of spiritual, historical, and cultural activities that will have a lasting impact.”