By David Schuman

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — Latino businesses on St. Paul’s west side are missing the annual Cinco de Mayo festival for a second year in a row due to COVID.

Even without it, Boca Chica, a Mexican restaurant in town for 57 years, filled up early in the afternoon.

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Rosemary Mercado Peterson and her family gathered to eat and drink Tuesday for a small reunion. It was no coincidence they chose Cinco de Mayo.

“For the Mercado clan, it’s a chance to say, ‘You know what? We’re proud of our heritage, we’re all family and yes, we are definitely 100 percent American. We were all born here,'” Peterson said.

Her mother came to the U.S. from Mexico as a child, and Peterson wore a necklace from there Tuesday.

The feeling of family permeates throughout Boca Chica.

“My parents were the original owners,” said Cristela Frias Koski, a co-owner along with several of her relatives.

Frias Koski says May 5 is Boca’s busiest day of the year, even without the sorely-missed Cinco de Mayo festival.

“I do some teaching of Mexican music and I would bring my students here to perform and that’s the highlight of their whole year to share their culture here on the west side at Cinco de Mayo,” Frias Koski said.

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Down the road, another favorite, El Burrito Mercado, felt the holiday bump too.

“Cinco’s a nice reminder like, ‘Hey we’re here! Come and visit,'” said Milissa Silva, a co-owner of El Burrito.

Something that can get lost in the festivities is that the holiday’s about more than just tacos and margaritas. The day marks Mexico’s victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla. It’s not Mexico’s Independence Day.

“It is a way for us to share our culture with the United States,” said Frias Koski.

Silva looks for balance on the holiday.

“Yes, drink and have fun but also be respectful about the culture,” she said.

Peterson says for her, Cinco de Mayo is a celebration of all Latino communities.

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The festival is scheduled to return in 2022.

David Schuman