Long before Footprint Center or Chase Field was built, Ray Arvizu had an idea.
That idea turned into the largest multicultural festival in Downtown Phoenix, bringing thousands to the city, the Phoenix Cinco de Mayo Festival.
Celebrating its 30th anniversary of tradition and family fun, the festival occurs on Sunday, May 7, from noon to 10 p.m. at 1st Avenue and Washington Street.
“It has become a tradition for the entire community to promote and highlight the Hispanic community and Downtown Phoenix,” Arvizu said, who launched the first event in 1993. “It’s an opportunity to bring families together to celebrate culture, food, and music.”
The festival includes a full day of entertainment and activities, including live music, a car show, strolling mariachis, lucha libre, ballet folklorico, a kid zone with games, street food from local vendors, margaritas, and so much more.
Musical guests headlining this year’s festival include the Grammy-winning Los Lonely Boys, whose hit song “Heaven” topped Billboard’s charts in 2004. Also taking the main stage is the 10-piece Tejano band Latin Breed and Lakeside, best known for their chart-topping song “Fantastic Voyage.”
Caballo Dorado will perform on the 2023 Indiscreta stage on 3rd Avenue and Washington Street.
While former headliners like Freddy Fender, KC & Sunshine Band, War, and Los Lobos have brought the crowds through the years, Arvizu wanted to use the festival to give back a bigger way.
Arvizu is a sports icon who led Grand Canyon University (GCU) to a national basketball championship in 1978.
Through the festival, Arvizu, in partnership with GCU, has awarded more than $600,000 in scholarships to Hispanic students looking to attend college.
“We believe that everyone should have access to education,” Arvizu said. “We utilize the funds to help minority and underserved community students with the opportunity to fulfill educational opportunities and find their purpose in life through academic achievements.”
Scholarships are awarded on the main stage during the festival. Cheers and community surround each student.
As Arvizu reflects on the festival’s success, he remembers just how much Downtown Phoenix has grown around him.
“There was no light rail, limited retail, the Convention Center had not been expanded, there was no Footprint Center, or theater, no Chase Field, no AZ Science Center, very limited hotels, very few if any events in Downtown and after 5 p.m. and weekends Downtown did not have much foot traffic,” he said.
As Downtown grows, so does the festival. According to an Arizona Republic article, the festival has entertained more than 3 million attendees as of last year.
Cinco de Mayo is often mistaken as a celebration of Mexican independence, but that date is Sept. 16, Cinco de Mayo commemorates the victory of the Mexican militia over the French army at Puebla on May 5, 1862.
Arvizu wants anyone who attends the festival to leave with “Pride and enjoyment for the entire family,” he said.
Cinco de Mayo Phoenix Festival
When: Noon-10 p.m. Sunday, May 7.
Where: 100 W. Washington St.
Admission: $5 at the gate before 5 p.m. $10 after 5 p.m. at the gate. Free for ages 10 and younger. Tickets and VIP packages are available at the gate or in advance at cincophx.com.