MARYSVILLE — The 10th anniversary of Cinco de Mayo celebrations at Totem Middle School May 6 saw the local debut of opera and bolero singer Jose Iniguez.
The Latino tenor grew up in Eastern Washington and has performed throughout the state, but like the Herencias Mexicanas dancers, he performed in the school cafeteria for free.
Iniguez has come a long way since his childhood as a migrant farmer, sharing a small trailer with 11 siblings, but thanks to his family’s support, he’s been able to make it his mission to bridge cultural gaps by combining Italian opera arias and Mexican mariachi boleros in his concerts.
“When I was in grade school, I was put in special education classes, not due to my intelligence, but because I spoke English with a heavy accent,” Iniguez said. “I remember feeling alone and thinking I wasn’t smart, while other kids laughed at me.”
As part of his commitment to “giving back” and offering hope to the next generations of Hispanics through his music, Iniguez came into contact with Wendy Messarina, parent/community liaison for the Marysville School District, who told him about the middle school and its annual celebration.
“Totem Middle School is a special place that does amazing things for its kids,” Iniguez said. “I loved seeing the mix of races and disabled, just enjoying being free from judgement and indifference and free to imagine. It just called to me to support them with my voice, especially since two of my siblings are teachers themselves.”
Cinco de Mayo committee chairwoman Marjorie Serge explained that the celebration began at the school 10 years ago, when a Latina eighth-grader expressed her concerns about the exclusion that she and other Hispanics felt from the rest of the community.
When Serge and another teacher brainstormed solutions, they concluded the most effective ways to explore other cultures is through music and food.
The event has since expanded in scope ever since, drawing more than 500 attendees this year with recurring features including piñata-smashing, authentic Mexican cuisine prepared by culinary arts classes at the School House Cafe, under the direction of Chef Jeff Delma, and a bike-powered blender making non-alcoholic margaritas, courtesy of Molina Healthcare.
Kathy Smargiassi even brought books from the Marysville Library on Mexican lucha libre wrestling, and helped kids make their own luchador masks with markers and paper plates.
“It’s so important, as we become more diverse as a community, that we be proactive in educating ourselves about other cultures, and that we practice tolerance, acceptance and inclusion, while having a really good time doing it,” Serge said.
As a young man, Iniguez often felt like he’d fallen into the chasm of the cultural gap, so he appreciates seeing families from different cultures coming together.
“Other Hispanics wouldn’t talk to me because I spoke English, and my Anglo friends wouldn’t let me go into their homes because I was Mexican,” Iniguez said. “That’s why these community events are so important for kids and adults alike. They get to be around each other, eat the same food, hear the same music, and see that we have more in common than our differences.”
He added: “I also think we shouldn’t wait for days like Cinco de Mayo for community events. We should have them every weekend.”