Officially, Cinco de Mayo, or May 5, 1862, is the date the Mexican army unexpectedly defeated the French in the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War. Although not a turning point in the war, the victory was a testament to the Mexican unsquashable spirit. A minor holiday in Mexico (the post office isn’t even closed), Americans celebrate Cinco de Mayo with that same spirit, including festivals, parades, music, food, and, yes, arts and crafts.
Called “artesania” in Mexico, traditional crafts and folk art are a major tourist attraction. Created by common people (non-professional artists), artesania includes pottery, fabrics, toys, and other crafts, and usually features the bright colors and decorative details that date back to the ancient temples, pyramids, and other historical objects found in Mexico.
You can celebrate Cinco de Mayo with your students all month long, by creating some of the artesania projects below.
Called “papel picado” in Spanish, these traditional paper crafts are used to line the streets and doorways during Mexican celebrations like the Day of the Dead, of Dia de los Muertos. Much like snowflakes, papel picado is simply the cutting of paper. Fold a large sheet of colorful tissue paper in half, twice. Then fold a large sheet of construction paper in half and place the folded tissue inside, spine to spine. Your students can draw and cut designs out of the construction paper sandwich, then unfurl the tissue inside to reveal their creations. String student’s work together to create a classroom banner or tape a drinking straw to each piece create flags for all.
Bunched Paper Flowers
Keep that tissue paper handy – it’s perfect for crafting bunched paper flowers. Used in Mexico in lieu of real flowers to decorate weddings and other important events, paper flowers can be crafted meticulously into true works of art. Students start by selecting and stacking six sheets of tissue paper (you may want to cut a traditional sheet in half – large sheets will make very large flowers), placing the color they’d like at the center of their flower on top and a green sheet on the bottom. Next, fold the stack, accordion-style, approximately 1” per fold. Now wrap a pipe cleaner around the center of the stack, twisting to secure, and cut each end into an obelisk shape – this will create the petals. Unfold the layers on either side of the pipe cleaner and separate the petals upward to form the flower.
“Amate” is the name for a specific fiber created from the bark of a fig tree that was used in ancient Mexican art and communication dating back to 300 B.C. Birds seem to be the most common theme of Amate artwork, although other animals and patterns were recorded on this medium as well. Your students can create their own Amate paintings using paper bags, brightly colored tempera paints, and permanent markers. Start by cutting a large, rectangular paper bag canvas for each student. Next, let your students crush, crumple, and smooth their canvases several times, until they’re pliant. Using a dark, thick marker, students can now draw an outline of their bird, animal or pattern on the bag and then use the paints to fill in their outlines. Let the paints dry and “mira”! Amate paintings!
How will you celebrate Cinco de Mayo with your students? Let us know in the comments below. We’d love to see photos of your traditional Mexican art creations.