“Ball game! Ball game! Had a long day at work? Take the heat out on these guys!” was the sales pitch of one game operator, overseeing a knock-over-the-milk-bottles-style game with clowns in lieu of bottles, at Douglas Park’s Cinco de Mayo carnival last Saturday. The event probably wasn’t the most red-white-and-green-blooded celebration in town, despite its largely Latino attendance. Instead, Casa Puebla, the Lower West Side housing project in charge of the event, put together a fair that catered to Latino interests, but included all the trimmings of an American carnival.
For one thing, there were as many food vendors advertising corn dogs, cotton candy, and nachos with an “All-American Taste” as there were stalls with “empanadas,” “churros,” and the undoubtedly more authentic “nachos.” The latter category clearly attracted more business, and for good reason. Because the event presented the rare opportunity to experience genuine and delicious Mexican food, most people mised the funnel cakes for cans of Cerveza Tecate, halved pineapples filled with Acapulco-style pina coladas, and plates of mouth-watering fajitas.
Aside from a few independent events like the mechanical bull ride, the event featured mostly standard carnival rides and games, with all the exborbitant prices and inflatable prizes of any standard fair. A heaping dose of commercialism pervaded the festivities in general–a quarter of the candy-striped tents housed the promotional materials and Spanish-speaking representatives of companies like Avon, U.S. Cellular, and Immigration Law Associates.
One of the most inexplicably popular promotions, run by representatives of Full Throttle Energy Drink, at one point had a queue of forty-five people lined up in front of a handmade prize wheel. Prizes included bright blue logo-toting buttons, posters, wrestling masks, and cans of Full Throttle. The winning of any prize typically elicited loud exclamations from its recipient, but the occasional winner, usually an adult, would burst spontaneously into dance. The desirability of these favors was such that, while the reps were busy cheering on contestants, one woman climbed into the back of the truck beside the tent and emerged with an armful of backpacks and oversized t-shirts. By the afternoon, the attendees wearing bright blue far outnumbered those wearing red, white, and green, so she was able tto deck out her two small children in the contraband and walk away with confidence.