OLIVIA -- Against all odds, a Mexican army repelled a far larger French force in the 1862 Battle of Pueblo and set the stage for what today is a celebration of Mexican pride known by its anniversary date, Cinco de Mayo.
No one knew what the odds against them were when new Spanish instructor Fay Kuznia and her students launched the celebration in the Olivia High School in 1977, but 35 years later the results are known: It's still a hit.
Some 670 students in grades K-12 in the BOLD School District joined on the Olivia campus on Friday to smash piñatas, hear live Mexican music, enjoy homemade tortillas and learn about Mexican culture by doing everything from pottery making and playing soccer to participating in a recreation of that May 5, 1862, battle.
"It's just a really fun thing for everybody to do," said Kuznia as she watched the students in her Spanish classes lead the activities on the campus.
Kuznia said the celebration is an opportunity to educate students about the heritage of the area's Hispanic community, as well as continue to build the relationship between the cultures. She said members of the local Hispanic community are willing helpers, and their involvement has much to do with making this a success.
Among them was Belen Juarez, who, along with her sister, spent hours over hot frying pans making tortillas. Juarez said she wasn't sure how many dozens of tortillas they made, but then couldn't guess how many students told her "gracias" for the tortillas they enjoyed either.
Things have come a long way since the celebration here started in 1977. The Hispanic community in Renville County was comprised largely of seasonal, migrant farm workers, and there were few Hispanic or Latino students in the schools.
The Hispanic population has grown from 1.2 percent of the permanent population of Renville County in 1990 to 5.1 percent in 2000 and to 6.67 percent in 2010, according to the U.S. Census.
Today, Hispanic or Latino students represent 17 percent of the student population in the BOLD district, according to Superintendent of Schools Thomas Farrell. Increasingly the students are second- and even third-generation members of their families to make this home, he noted.
Stevie Perez is the second generation in his family to call Olivia home, while also maintaining his appreciation for his heritage. He graduated last year from the BOLD High School, and was back on campus Friday with the band Grupo Extremo to play Mexican music for the students. The band was started in 2008 and carries on a tradition of playing Mexican music at events in the region that was started by his father, Miguel Perez.
Perez credits Kuznia and the school for making Hispanic culture appreciated as well as understood. While he was a student at BOLD, Perez said many of his classmates were as open to Latin music as the more prevalent popular music. "The best of both worlds," he said.
Kuznia said the district hasn't been able to make the Cinco de Mayo celebration an annual event, but makes sure that a big celebration is held at least once in every three. This will be her last in charge of it, as she will be retiring from full-time teaching at the end of the year. Her successor is one of her former students, said the superintendent.