Carnaval de Puebla returns to Philadelphia amid increase in deportations

Marchers in Philadelphia's El Carnaval de Puebla en Filadelfia don caricature costumes depicting the Mexican army that prevailed over the French and Turkish forces during the 1862 Battle of Puebla, commonly known as Cinco de Mayo. (PRNewsFoto/Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation, R. Kennedy for GPTMC)

Marchers in Philadelphia's El Carnaval de Puebla en Filadelfia don caricature costumes depicting the Mexican army that prevailed over the French and Turkish forces during the 1862 Battle of Puebla, commonly known as Cinco de Mayo. (PRNewsFoto/Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation, R. Kennedy for GPTMC)

Miguel Andrade considers the Carnaval de Puebla similar to the Mummers parade — but better.

“I think the most beautiful aspect of it is Carnavaleros,” Andrade said, referring to the performers in the traditional Mexican festival. “They’re very beautiful, very intricate, some would even say that it’s reminiscent of the Philadelphia Mummers outfits, but I personally feel like they’re a lot more beautiful, just because of the cultural impact that comes with them,” he said.

Each year, the festival celebrates the culture and history of Huejotzingo, a town rooted in the Mexican state of Puebla. The tradition, more than a century old in Mexico, has been seeping through Philadelphia’s streets since 2006.

So when organizers cancelled the Carnaval last year — in response to a flurry of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids and arrests of unauthorized immigrants — it took many by surprise.

Andrade, a Colombian native who works for the immigrant-rights group Juntos, said he felt discouraged when the event was cancelled

“I think it was, it was disheartening, right? I think it’s something that has been happening in Philadelphia for the last couple of years,” he said.

This year, the celebration — the largest of its kind outside Mexico itself — is returning to South Philadelphia Sunday morning. Carnavaleros will wander around Ninth and Washington for the event that has previously attracted a crowd of 15,000,

“We have to return to the everyday,” said Carnaval organizer Edgar Ramirez, in spite of  deportation fears.

Still, Ramirez said he expects some will take precautions as they gather for the festivities because fears of deportation haven’t dissipated. In fact, ICE arrests have increased in Philadelphia, according to a recent report from ProPublica and the Philadelphia Inquirer. In 2017 alone, more than 2,700 immigrants were arrested in the Pennsylvania, Delaware and West Virginia region.

Sixty-four percent of those arrested had no prior criminal convictions.

Andrade said he doesn’t expect ICE agents to show up at a festival. But he said immigrant arrests are increasing noticeably.

Still, the Carnaval will fill the streets of Philadelphia with Poblano tacos, elaborate costumes, and traditional banda music.

“We are part of Philadelphia, and we have to face what happens,” Ramirez said.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.