Sacks Playground, in South Philly, erupted in a festival of colors, ranchera music and dance Sunday as hundreds gathered to celebrate Mexican immigrants and culture as part of the San Mateo Carnavalero festival.

The highlight of the daylong festivities came when a parade of people in colorful costumes and hats — representing indigenous Indians and Mexican, French and Turkish soldiers — entered the playground on Washington Avenue near 4th Street, dancing to the sounds of cymbals and drums.

The parade, which began at 17th and Dickinson streets, celebrated the Battle of Puebla, when Mexican forces, including indigenous Indians, defeated the more powerful French forces (assisted by Turkish soldiers), in Mexico's state of Puebla, on May 5, 1862.

In the United States, the Mexican victory is celebrated as Cinco de Mayo. This year is the 150th anniversary of the battle.

The majority of Mexicans who live in South Philly hail from Puebla. Of those, a large number come from the town of San Mateo Ozolco.

This year's San Mateo Carnavalero was part of the larger De Pueblo a Pueblo (From Town to Town) festival, a celebration of Mexican culture in Philly, which began on Friday and lasts through June 16. (See

Before the parade of revelers danced into the playground, observers were entertained by other groups and singers.

The Grupo Danza Azteca Mexica performed traditional dances of the indigenous Mexica people from more than 500 years ago. In one dance, the group gave thanks to the four corners of the planet and to Mother Earth.

And the crowd was wowed by Rosita Salvatierra, an 8-year-old third-grader from Bridgeton, N.J., who danced onstage and sang the Mexican folk song, "El Cielito Lindo,"and the popular cumbia song, "El Ladrón."

As some people watched the performers, others munched on tasty tacos al pastor and quesadillas cooked up and served by workers with Los Taquitos de Puebla and Los Gallos — Mexican restaurants in South Philly.

Alejandro Lobato, 24, and his wife, Giovanna Ventura, 22, came to the festival with their 3-month-old daughter, Melanie Lobato. The couple is from the small town of Ixtacamaxtitlán in Puebla state and now live in South Philly.

The festival "is very pretty," Lobato said, speaking in Spanish. "There is a lot of entertainment like dance. And there's Mexican food." n

Contact Julie Shaw at 215-854-2592 or