Cinco de Mayo means more than a theme party to the changing population of Mill Creek

By Dan Aznoff | May 04, 2017

Ethnic celebrations like those held throughout Mill Creek on Cinco de Mayo have more meaning to residents of the city than a chance to wear a sombrero or an excuse to drink too much.

While bars and restaurants prepare to celebrate the Mexican holiday in the same way they have for many years, schools and civic organizations will try to mark May 5 in the way the nation’s founders originally intended.

Most people think Cinco de Mayo began south of the border as the Mexican version of Independence Day. In reality, the holiday was established to commemorate the Mexican army’s unlikely victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. Mexicans celebrate their independence from Spain at the end of summer on Sept. 16.

That simple fact has not stopped revelers from turning Cinco de Mayo into an all-day party.

“I’d like to say the crowd has matured,” said Brandon Wright, the manager of Azul Restaurant on Main Street. “But, the truth is, all we need to do is open our doors and we will be full of people who just want to party. Especially this year with the good weather.”

What has changed for Mill Creek is the ethnic diversity of the population since the city was incorporated in 1983 with little more than 7,000 residents. According to the latest census, the vast majority of the residents still identify themselves as white or Caucasian.

But the number of residents of Hispanic or Latin heritage has grown more than 10-fold since the federal government took an official count in 1990.  That number has more more than doubled in just the past 10 years.

Population breakdowns used by the city indicate the percentage of residents who identify as white-only has dropped to 74.2 percent from more than 80 percent in 1990.

Asians represent 16.7 percent of the nearly 20,000 residents in Mill Creek, while the percentage of Hispanics has increased to more than 5.6 percent. In terms of numbers, the number of Hispanics has jumped from 108 in 1990 to 1,026 in the latest count.

The change in the ethic make-up of the community can best be predicted by enrollment at schools within the city, according to Dave Peters, principal at Jackson High School, the only high school within the city limits.

Hispanics now represent 12.3 percent of the students at Jackson, an increase of .64 percent in the past nine months. While the student body at Jackson increased by 61 students at the start of the 2016 school year compared to the end of the school year the previous June, the percentage of students from white families has dropped by more almost 2 percentage points to 57.9 percent of the 2,196 students at the four-year high school.

According to Peters, the percentage of Hispanic students at Jackson was less than 9 percent as recently as 2012.

“Diversity is a wonderful characteristic of the student body at Jackson. And we try to take full advantage of it,” Peters said. “Students have learned that the more we know about each other, and the more we share our differences, the more we realize how much we are really all the same.”

Peters compiled his information for a presentation to the Everett Public Schools on the number of students at Jackson who qualify for the free or reduced lunch program. Compared to a year ago, the percentage of students at Jackson on the government assistance programs, Peters said, has dropped by nearly 20 percent.

Unlike schools, the restaurants and bars in Mill Creek can legally refuse to serve a patron who is too intoxicated or gets out of hand. Wright said his staff at Azul has been trained to cut off a patron who might be using Cinco de Mayo as an excuse to cause trouble.

“There is no reason we need to put up with the riff-raff,” Wright said. “We all just want to have a good time and get home safely when we’re done.”

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