For the first time in years, local businesses, organizations and sports teams waved at crowds of largely children and families along Main Street, transforming downtown Garden City into a vibrant and bustling Cinco de Mayo celebration.

The event, preceded by a morning 5K Run to beat diabetes and followed by a celebration at Stevens Park, afternoon basketball tournament and Sunday soccer tournament, is part of a series of events organized by the recently founded group, the Cultural Empowerment and Development Foundation.

The group was created on a mission of empowering local cultural communities through knowledge regarding voting, finance, real estate and healthcare and appreciation of veterans and the elderly, said foundation president Liset Cruz. The Cinco de Mayo celebration was an early embodiment of those goals, all while bringing the community together to honor Mexican history and the immigrants that bring life to Garden City.

“Cinco de Mayo … celebrates bravery and courage. When immigrants come here, that takes bravery and courage...” Cruz said. “So not only are we celebrating Cinco de Mayo, but we want to celebrate everybody’s bravery as an immigrant.”

Small children watched with wide eyes as local folklorico dancers spun down Main Street and young soccer players blew vuvuzelas at random from aboard a float while dancers stepped in time to the beat of a drum. Representatives from the Vietnamese community also arrived alongside the representation of Latino culture, waving in traditional dress and embodying a swaying dragon costume.

One young boy shouted excitedly as the parade moved past, holding a hand-drawn Mexican flag on copy paper that he made at school.

Across the street, Stevens Park was peppered with booths and tents from local businesses and entities visited by hundreds of people. As evidenced by the crowded, criss-crossing lines to the savory-smelling Mexican food stands and laughing admissions from guests, most people came for the food, but that’s not all there was to offer.

Representatives from St. Catherine Hospital and Genesis Family Health were present to hand out information on diabetes and strokes, adding an educational component to the day. In the middle of the park, Finney County Democrats encouraged guests of any political party to register to vote, again feeding into an aspect of Cultural Empowerment’s mission.

Getting as many people as possible to vote, especially those in Hispanic or other minority community, could address a representation problem in Finney County, where the racial makeup of the area’s leaders do not align with the racial makeup of the community, said Finney County Democrats Chair Cynthia Marsh and Vice Chair Jimmy Beard. In the majority Hispanic county, all 10 of the Garden City and Finney County commissioners are white and all but one are male.

“Our hope is that we can actually get more people involved in what is happening in their community and show them that they have a voice and an impact to what happens — not just on a city level, but on a county level — and just to make Garden City the best that it can be,” Marsh said.

But the Cinco de Mayo festivities also meant something to the people who came out to celebrate because of the community and culture alone.

Sasha Mai had brought her daughters to the event in part to show them what Garden City is. She and her husband grew up in the town, started their family in Kansas City and moved back to Garden several years ago. The majority-white Johnson County never felt like home to Mai and her husband as a biracial couple, but in Garden City, her daughters’ classrooms alone are a swirling mix of local cultures, she said. The Cinco de Mayo celebration was another example of that welcome diversity.

For Isabel Enriquez, it was a tangible chance to show her children her Mexican heritage — their Mexican heritage — which sometimes seems far away.

“It’s what I am and just where I come from…” Enriquez said. “It helps because they visualize it. They actually see it, and they actually feel the warmth of what it is rather than just hearing about it or seeing about on TV.”

Contact Amber Friend at afriend@gctelegram.com.