Flu bug snuffs out Mexico's Cinco de Mayo party

Tue May 5, 2009 3:43pm EDT
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By Louise Egan

PUEBLA, Mexico (Reuters) - The flu virus that has killed at least 26 people in Mexico and triggered fears of a pandemic has spoiled Cinco de Mayo, the biggest and most beloved celebration of the year in the cobblestone city of Puebla.

Every year thousands of students, soldiers, musicians and dancers in colorful folkloric costumes crowd into this colonial city east of the capital for the noisy Cinco de Mayo parade to commemorate the 1862 Battle of Puebla against French forces.

This year, Puebla's streets were almost empty as residents obeyed a government order to cancel large public gatherings to avoid spreading the new H1N1 flu strain.

"It's kind of sad. Why do we have to suspend an event that is so important for the state of Puebla and for all Mexicans?" said Laura Arias, 20, a supermarket clerk who as a child danced in the Cinco de Mayo parade.

"I feel sorry for all the school kids who spent weeks and months rehearsing for this day," she said.

Cinco de Mayo is celebrated by Mexican immigrants all over the United States with street fairs and carnivals but in Mexico the day is mainly celebrated in Puebla, where residents could not remember it ever being axed before.

It is often mistaken for Mexican Independence Day, which is actually September 16.

The celebration marks a battle in which Mexican soldiers defeated an invading French army against all odds. The powerful French went on to occupy Mexico a year later but Mexico remembers the battle with great pride.   Continued...