Cinco de Mayo is, for many Americans, that day for enjoying Mexican food —yes, everything goes well with guacamole and NO! the salsa thing with tortilla chips isn´t a Mexican thing— and probably a few margaritas or Coronas. But let´s be honest, Cinco de Mayo, which translates to May fifth, is probably the most misunderstood of all Mexican holidays.
I can begin by telling you that it is not Mexico’s Independence Day, that holiday is actually September 16th. So, what is Cinco de Mayo? Cinco de Mayo is the “Anniversary of the Battle of Puebla” a Mexican military victory in 1862 over the French forces of Napoleon III.
In 1861 Mexico declared a temporary suspension on the payment of foreign debts, so the British, Spanish, and French troops invaded the country. By April 1862 the English and Spanish Crowns had withdrawn from Mexican territory, but the French, attempting to establish a monarchy under Maximilian of Austria, were trying to gain control of the cotton trade in the U.S. by helping the south, which was at conflict with the north.
On May 5, 1862, a very poorly armed force of mestizo soldiers under the command of General Ignacio Zaragoza defeated the French troops at the Battle of Puebla (a city southeast of Mexico City). Although the fighting continued and the French were not driven out for another five years, the victory at Puebla became a symbol of Mexican resistance to foreign domination. After such victory, in honor of the great general, the city, was later renamed Puebla de Zaragoza, where you can find an amazing museum devoted to the battle, and the battlefield itself is maintained as a park.
Going back to our subject… Cinco de Mayo is celebrated in the state of Puebla with parades, speeches, and reenactments of the 1862 battle. As I mentioned before this day is not very noticed in most of the rest of the country.
So… why is this day celebrated in the U.S? Well, in 1942, the United States signed a “Farm Labor Agreement” with Mexico, allowing the importation of contract laborers. These Mexican men and women brought with them certain traditions and one of them was the celebration of Cinco de Mayo, becoming amongst Mexican immigrants a way of encouraging pride in their Mexican heritage.
Originally, this celebration was focalized in very specific communities in California, then expanding to other areas. As it happens with everything, the tradition permeated in the communities. People began to adopt the celebration but it really gained popularity in the 1980s when beer companies, capitalized on the festive nature of the day and began to promote it. It grew in popularity and evolved into a celebration of our Mexican culture and heritage, first in areas with large Mexican-American populations, like Los Angeles, San Antonio, Chicago, Houston, Tucson, San Jose, New York, but later on it moved to cities like Boston, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Miami or Saint Paul.
On June 7, 2005, the United States Congress issued a resolution, calling on the President of the United States to issue a proclamation calling upon the people of the United States to observe Cinco de Mayo with appropriate ceremonies and activities. In order to celebrate this festivity, many school districts hold events to educate students about its historical significance and special activities and celebrations to highlight Mexican heritage, particularly its music, dancing and regional outfits.
Today, Cinco de Mayo has become more of an American holiday than a Mexican one and you know what? We feel very happy and honored about it! Yes, indeed. You see, we are very proud of who we are, very proud of our history, our music, our colors, our flavors, our language. We want to share with the world who we are and that is why we resent that at this time and age, the US president says something as awful as: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. … They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
Let me assure you something about us the Mexicans. We are family oriented, decent, hard-working people. Sure, we are not perfect, but we are not all “bad hombres” like some would like you to believe and by the way, we don´t speak “Mexican” but Spanish.
So, this Cinco de Mayo enjoy lots of Mexican food, drink Mexican beer, tequilas, margaritas or whatever you like best with your “compadres and comadres” (in moderation preferably). If you can, go to a Mexican folk dance festival, listen to some mariachis, Vicente Fernandez or Banda music even if you don’t speak Spanish since Mexican music doesn’t necessarily have to be understood to feel it! The most important thing is that you take some time to reflect on the many meaningful accomplishments of the Mexican people, and how the Mexican-American people have greatly contributed it into making the United States the country that it is today.
Salud… Happy Cinco de Mayo!!!
For The Yucatan Times
Jose E. Urioste – Palomeque
Mayo 04 2019
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