Cinco de Mayo should be celebrated for the right reasons
Even though the actual day is next week, the Cinco de Mayo holiday will be celebrated this weekend.
Let’s get something straight about Cinco de Mayo right off the bat:
Cinco de Mayo is not — I repeat NOT — Mexican Independence Day. Mexican Independence Day is Sept. 16. Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Battle of Puebla, on May 5, 1862.
On that day, an ill-equipped Mexican army, made up largely of volunteers, defeated the 8,000-strong French army, and considered, at that time, to be the premiere army in the world (this was during the reign of the three Napoleons, long before the French became renowned by Americans for surrendering.)
So the Mexican army went on to win the war with the French, right? Not exactly.
The Battle of Puebla was mostly a symbolic victory for the Mexican people — an indo-American David defeating the European Goliath. While it helped established a national identity and unity for the Mexican people, the Battle of Puebla did not help Mexico win the war.
France brought 30,000 more soldiers over the Atlantic and a year later the French had conquered Mexico and established the Second Mexican Empire, which would last for three years.
So why do Mexican-Americans and Chicanos celebrate Cinco de Mayo? It has to do with national identity, solidarity and hope.
Cinco de Mayo was taken up as inspiration in Alta, Calif., what we just call the state of California. Soon after, word of the Mexican victory arrived to the plebe on the west coast of the United States.
It was a source of inspiration to a Mexican-American populace that was being dispossessed of it’s land, property and dignity by greedy, unscrupulous Americans in thrall of the Gold Rush.
That inspiration was passed on 100 years later to the Chicano civil rights movement, which in many ways grew from the civil rights protests headed up by Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta and the United Farm Workers.
The Chicano Movement brought Cinco de Mayo and the Battle of Puebla back into the popular imagination of Mexican-Americans and Chicanos as a David and Goliath type story to inspire those involved in el movimiento to continue the struggle.
The gist of the story was this: sometimes the underdog wins.
Unfortunately, as the holiday and its celebrations found favor across the western United States, advertisers and marketers took notice and began to co-opt Cinco de Mayo in the way that they co-opted St. Patrick’s Day.
What started as Cinco de Mayo is now largely “Cinco de Drinko,” another excuse for Americans to go out and get drunk.
And yes, the origin of Cinco de Mayo is a celebration; a celebration that has probably always included drinking and dancing. Que esta bien.
But just like the Fourth of July, there’s more to Cinco de Mayo than drinking, eating and celebrating.
Even with all the eating of hot dogs and hamburgers, drinking and fireworks, we never lose sight of the fact that American Independence Day is ultimately about freedom. And blood was shed for that freedom.
Cinco de Mayo may have started as a purely Mexican celebration, but it is much more than that. It’s an American celebration, for all the people of the Western Hemisphere.
It’s a day when the people themselves rose up against the tyranny of a foreign invader and fought for their freedom and, against overwhelming odds, won.
Because of that, Cinco de Mayo should be an inspiring day for everyone who values freedom and justice.
So when you raise your Corona to celebrate on May 5, don’t forget to send a salute to the underdogs — and freedom.