FORT WORTH -- Born and raised in the United States, Norma Barrera has ventured to Mexico, the homeland of her grandparents, only a couple of times.
But on Sunday, the Fort Worth teenager dressed in a white gown and swept across the stage in a traditional dance from the Mexican state of Sinaloa.
"This is my family's culture," said Barrera, 16. "It's important to us that we keep that alive, even if we live here."
Barrera and hundreds of others crowded into La Gran Plaza on Sunday to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. Organizers said having the celebration one day late allowed for a larger turnout because more people had the day off.
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Ballet Folklorico dancers stomped to traditional Mexican music while mariachi musicians strummed. Participants sang Mexico's national anthem, and children waited in line to have their faces painted with small Mexican flags.
Cinco de Mayo commemorates the 1862 Battle of Puebla, in which Mexico was temporarily victorious against French intervention. Cinco de Mayo is sometimes mistaken for Mexico's Independence Day, Sept. 16.
In Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is not widely observed. But in the U.S., the holiday has become a time to celebrate all things Mexican, from tacos and tequila to mariachis and dance.
And for children and young people of Mexican descent, Cinco de Mayo has become a time to reconnect to the culture and heritage of their ancestors.
"For me, this is a small reminder of Mexico," said Veronica Delacruz, who was born in Monterrey but moved here 30 years ago. Delacruz said she has not visited Mexico in recent years because of turmoil and travel warnings.
Maria Romero has not lived in Mexico for 20 years, but she is teaching her 4-year-old son, Lucas, everything she knows and remembers about her country. Lucas has been to Mexico only once but speaks fluent Spanish, as well as English.
On Sunday, he wore a red bandana with white shirt, shoes, pants and hat, and danced to music from the state of Veracruz.
"It is so important to share our roots with our children," Romero said. "My son was born here, and this is his home, but I still want him to know about Mexico."
That is the idea behind Mexico Lindo Ballet Folklorico, a Fort Worth school that teaches dance to mostly second- and third-generation Mexican immigrants. Nestor Lopez, who is from Puebla, said he started the studio in 2009 to help young people connect with the Mexican culture while giving them something useful to do. Now, nearly 100 students ages 3 or 4 to 18 take lessons.
"We keep students off of the street, out of gangs, out of trouble," Lopez said through an interpreter. "We teach them to dance. We bring Mexico's history to the students."
The dancers have been in high demand for Cinco de Mayo festivities regionwide, Lopez said.
Alma Gonzalez, who emceed Sunday's event, said Cinco de Mayo allows Mexican families in the United States to celebrate their heritage.
"We want to encourage the little kids that they can be a part of their Mexican culture," Gonzalez said.
"It doesn't matter where they were born."
After dancing Sunday, Barrera visited with her mother, Marisela. The two said they have been approached by strangers who thanked them for showing dances and costumes they had not seen in years.
"We're showing them something from their childhood and bringing back old memories," Barrera said.
"That makes everyone happy."
Sarah Bahari, 817-390-7056