Some of Northfield’s most influential persons were on hand Thursday to see one of its most influential communities put on quite a show.

With leaders like Sen. Kevin Dahle, DFL-Northfield, Mayor Dana Graham and future superintendent Matt Hillmann on hand, the Latino community cooked, danced and celebrated for the masses at the sixth Northfield Middle School Cinco de Mayo event. As Northfield resident Mar Valdecantos, originally of Spain, pointed out, the annual event has transformed from a middle school showing to a community celebration.

“It has become this bigger thing,” she said. “There is an eagerness from the Latino community to be acknowledged and present and not invisible anymore. To capture that feeling is one of the factors to make this event even bigger.”

The three-hour event drew in a couple hundred people, and while much of the crowd consisted of Mexican-Americans and other Latino groups, the feeling for anyone and everyone was welcoming. Kids colored and played crafts, played games, got painted tattoos or just simply ran around.

Adults gathered throughout the cafeterias, eating the significant portions of food offered, while enjoying music and entertainment. In the last hour, the popular local group, Aztec Dancers, performed on the stage.

It all added up to a good time, and over $2,000 raised for Northfield School District Latino scholarships, as announced by one of the event’s organizers, Ruben Alvarez. Besides the logistic benefits, the celebration is important to the Latino community for many reasons.

“If they’re not visible as people, others will see them as a stereotype,” Valdecantos said. “This is a chance to show who they are. They are not this stereotype of criminals or people without any skills. They want to share their rich community life with everybody.”

Mayor Graham seemingly agrees. He was in attendance at the Cinco de Mayo event for the first time this year, which he said he was a bit “embarrassed” to admit. He said he gained a lot of knowledge in simply taking part.

“This is the sixth year, and it gets bigger and bigger,” he said. “It’s about bringing the community together. It originated from a Latino celebration, but it’s an opportunity for the community to come together.”

Graham believes it’s about time Northfield, as a whole, realizes that the Latino community is a part of that whole, and not a group that should be looking from the outside in.

“We need to be one Northfield,” he said. “You could walk around that room and meet people that have lived here for 20, 30, 40 years. This is not a new segment of our community. They may seem invisible to some people, but I’ll tell you what, they’re an important part.”

Reach Reporter Philip Weyhe at 507-333-3132 or follow him on Twitter @philweyhe.

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