Cinco de Mayo weekend launched Saturday evening with a festive parade of happy celebrants cruising in music-blasting cars along Santa Clara Street in downtown San Jose and East San Jose's King Road.
Officially, Sunday is Cinco de Mayo -- May 5 -- but traditionally the whole weekend is a chance for the region's Latinos to collectively express pride in their heritage.
Families dragged chairs and tables out to front yards on King and Story roads for a good view of the long parade of flag-bedecked cars packed with people cruising along King and Santa Clara.
Jennifer Hernandez and her large extended family were watching it all while eating and drinking at a table in front of their Victorian at 24th and Santa Clara.
"We're celebrating our Mexican family and pride in our heritage," she said, pointing out cousins, uncles, aunts and siblings.
A couple of miles away at Story and King, cheerful street entrepreneur Juan Ramirez sold red, green and white Mexican flags to passers-by.
Next to him on a tiny strip of lawn by a shopping center parking lot, Silvia Morquecho stood by a giddy display of hats radiating the same color scheme.
"I've been out here every year for nine years," she said. So far this year, business is a little slower, she said, hoping better sales would arrive as the long spring day extended.
So what's Cinco de Mayo all about? Technically, it's the celebration of a Mexican victory over the French in the Battle of Puebla in 1862.
Unofficially, Morquecho said, "It's to have a party, to have some drinks."
"This is what we love to do," said Jose Frias, of Redwood City, standing next to his glistening burgundy 2002 Silverado. Frias was hanging out with members of the San Jose chapter of the car club Build 2 Clown.
Noel Mendoza's deep black 2009 Charger was parked nearby. He'd driven up from Modesto for the weekend.
"People have come here from all over," he said.
But up and down Santa Clara and other key cruising routes, there was general agreement that the massive police presence was intimidating.
Alfredo Diaz pointed that out as he stood on the sidewalk in front of his Diaz Mens Wear store after closing up for the night.
"The police go too far," he said, referring to the ban on parking on his block since Friday.
"As soon as they started issuing citations, there was no business," he said. "They start this too soon." He said he'd have preferred police to prohibit parking on the street only on Sunday.
The San Jose Police Department is fielding a huge force to keep violence to a minimum.
In past years, a handful of troublemakers has marred the festivities, smashing store windows and instigating street fights.
The department is fielding additional personnel to address "any public safety issues" that arise.
Martin Chavez, manager of Hank Coca's Downtown Furniture, said that eight years ago his store windows were broken, "but it hasn't been like that since."
Anyway, he said, "We should focus on the positive, not on the negative."
The Cinco de Mayo police presence included lots of motorcycle officers, the department's METRO and MERGE units and others. A Gang Investigations Unit was out in force for "gang suppression," the department said, assisted by Santa Clara County probation officers and California Corrections Department parole agents.
Traffic may be diverted to reduce gridlock along major roadways such as King Road, southbound Fourth Street and northbound Market Street.
"Every effort will be made to allow citizens residing in or near the area affected by potential road closures the ability to leave and return to their residences without unreasonable delay," the department said.
VTA buses will be allowed through diversion points.
There was a sense of expectation about a big Sharks game Sunday evening too, and police advised carpooling or taking public transit to avoid what could be a major traffic snarl.
Contact Pete Carey at 408-920-5419 Follow him at Twitter.com/petecarey
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