Reader's View, Cinco de Mayo: Celebration puts new focus on education for Latinos

May 4, 2013 

Cinco de Mayo is an important holiday celebrated in the United States by those primarily of Mexican American descent. But in more recent years, the holiday has spread to become a celebration by Latinos and Hispanics as a symbol of unity and cultural awareness.

Cinco de Mayo originated from a battle that took place in Puebla, Mexico, in 1862, about 80 miles southeast of Mexico City. That battle involved a small contingent of Mexican soldiers against what was allegedly a superior French force. The Mexican solders prevailed and French troops were eventually forced to leave Mexico.

Today, the meaning of Cinco de Mayo has evolved to something more meaningful to the Latino community. Cinco de Mayo is more than a celebration of music, food, and culture. It is a celebration of the importance of education to the community.

The Latino community in Idaho has a long history, going back at least to the 1930s. But, in the 1940s and after World War II, the growth of the agricultural industry, in particular sugar beets and potatoes, called for more workers that could not be supplied within the state of Idaho.

There was just too much work to be done, too many fields to harvest. That's when thousands of workers and families from states such as Texas and Arizona came to work the fields. They paved the way for today's population of 150,000 plus Latinos in Idaho.

An example of the new meaning of Cinco de Mayo is illustrated by the founding of the Idaho Latino Scholarship Foundation, launched in 2006 by a group of Latino business owners, the Idaho Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and a non-Latina by the name of Trudy McGavin, who registered the foundation with the secretary of state as a 501c(3)non-profit organization.

The Idaho Latino Scholarship Foundation vision is to enable the Latino community to make greater contributions to the economic well-being of everyone in the state of Idaho by sending more young men and women to colleges and universities. The mission of the foundation, in particular, is to raise funds both from within the community as well as the community-at-large, particularly the business sector and other foundations, to grant scholarships.

It is clear that the Latino community must take the initiative to support its own economic base to support education as one of its primary objectives. It cannot, however, move ahead without the support of the greater community, in particular agricultural and related interests.

Latinos came to this state to help grow its agricultural and agribusiness industries, including the various business interests of the Simplot family and Amalgamated Sugar Co. We are grateful for the opportunities provided. Now, we seek assistance in building our educational infrastructure so that we can continue to build the greater Idaho that we all aspire to have.

While Cinco de Mayo is a celebration, it is also a time to acknowledge the importance of education. Our biggest battle today is the competition for information and knowledge. We, as Latinos, must create our own jobs. That can only come through education.

For the above reasons, the Idaho Latino Scholarship Foundation is holding its first "A Night of Mariachi" Gala to raise funds for its scholarship program at the Riverside Hotel in Boise on Friday, May 10. Wells Fargo Bank is the lead sponsor, believing that education is central to the Latino community's economic growth. More information can be obtained by contacting Mitzi Cassels, Wells Fargo Bank, at (208) 363-7550.

Anthony U. Martinez of Nampa, a retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve, is with Idaho Latino Scholarship Foundation.

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