Santa Barbara celebrated Cinco de Mayo this Monday with a variety of festivities downtown throughout the day and into the night.

Street vendors sold authentic Mexican cuisine and colorful, confetti-filled eggs while mariachi bands serenaded locals along State Street. Restaurants and bars held their own celebrations to commemorate the Battle of Puebla in 1862, in which an outnumbered Mexican force defeated a larger French army attempting invasion.

KEYT Senior Reporter John Palminteri hosted festivities at Sandbar on Lower State Street, with events there including a lime-bobbing contest, free sombrero hats and a taco-eating contest, in which one Santa Barbara native dominated the competition by consuming three massive tacos in under a minute.

For Palminteri, the key theme of the night was making sure everyone got home from Cinco de Mayo safely and without incidents of drunk driving.

“Being in Santa Barbara as long as I have, I know this town loves to celebrate all the big events,” Palminteri said. “But I’m also using my news position as often as I can tonight to encourage everyone to get home safely. That is in the forefront of my agreement to do this.”

Palminteri said safe driving is especially important in light of the death of UCSB alumna Mallory Rae Dies, who was fatally injured in a hit-and-run accident by Raymond Morua, a former congressional aide to Representative Lois Capps, who later plead guilty to charges of gross vehicular manslaughter and hit-and-run, among others.

“Ever since Mallory Dies, and even before … it’s so much in the conversation now that I am going to keep it in the conversation myself by encouraging people to get a ride home from a friend or a designated driver,” Palminteri said. “I really think all the bar owners are committed to that as well. I want everyone to have a great time by celebrating, getting together and bonding.”

However, second-year communication major Elizabeth Castellanos said she felt the cultural significance of the holiday has become convoluted.

“I feel like it’s lost its meaning. It’s been downplayed into an excuse to drink,” Castellanos said.

Castellanos also said she counted herself among those who have notoriously mistaken Cinco de Mayo as a celebration for Mexico achieving its independence from Spain.

“I’m not going to lie — I grew up thinking it was the Independence Day,” Castellanos said.

Palminteri said he hopes some of the safety measures used at big events downtown are eventually implemented in Isla Vista to prevent future bad situations like Deltopia.

“Downtown Santa Barbara — they have community patrol officers and citizens that walk the streets during the day … I know that while everything might be law enforcement-oriented in Isla Vista, I believe it would be nice if there were some community patrols that could be present,” Palminteri said.

Other restaurants, such as Sharkeez and Casa Blanca, displayed the colors of the Mexican flag and sported events in an effort to celebrate the Mexican culture and appeal to partygoers.

Fourth-year psychology major Courtney Carlson from Channel Islands University said she was happy to celebrate the holiday despite being unsure about the exact history of the occasion.

“I don’t know much about the holiday,” Carlson said. “I know it was a battle that was won in Mexico, but that’s about it.”

Third-year film studies major at Santa Barbara City College Samuel Foord seemed to have a better understanding of the holiday, saying, “I know it’s a great excuse for white people to go downtown and drink tequila.”

 This is a Daily Nexus online exclusive.