Cinco de Mayo
I got a few posts today, ya?
Anyways, I read an interesting opinion linked to by an article in the L.A. times that said, for the one line summary, that although you can’t deny the worth of celebrating Cinco de Mayo, it’s a “ridiculous” holiday because it marks an event that shouldn’t mean anything.
Let that sink in for a minute.
First, a clarification: Cinco de Mayo is often mistaken as Mexican Independence Day, which it is not. It marks Mexican defeat of the French at the Battle of Puebla back in 1862. It was the first time the French had been defeated in 50 years, and the last time a power from Europe invaded the Americas. That’s noteworthy.
The argument that celebrating this is rather silly is because a year later, the French would still take the capital in Mexico and set up their puppet Emperor Maximillian, an Austrian, who is a bit of a tragic figure, and his wife even more so. But I digress. He’d rule for a few years, sink close to full abdication, and would be executed by Benito Juarez. Old Max had even supported many of Juarez’s reforms. His last words, btw, were:
“Mexicans! I die in a just cause… the independence and liberty of Mexico. May my blood be the last to flow for the good of this land. Long live Mexico!”
Then, the light of European rule finally leaves the Americas to their own devices. We dealt with the British in the War of 1812, the Mexicans did it to the French 50 some odd years later, but there are still lasting influences from Europe in Mexican culture. The argument implies that Cinco de Mayo is therefore a false holiday, and that resisting imperialism is about as loose a reason to party as Saint Patrick is to Saint Patrick’s Day. (A good point, really.)
Both articles fail to recognize that though it was never really celebrated outside of Puebla, the day immediately took on in California (and later in Texas). It’s know that California started celebrating it as a holiday the very next year and continued doing so as a protest to French rule from a state that became swept up in a patriotic fervor to support the Civil War. California had long before banned slavery in the state but had a large southern population, and California was looking for ways to show solidarity and pride. Cinco de Mayo became a celebration of our abilities to resist, to stand up for ourselves, and work for liberation from oppression. It was not nationalism. It was more global thinking and supportive than Mexico was ready for. Or even the rest of the world, as Europe was twiddling its collective thumbs waiting to see what we’d do to ourselves in the Civil War, and not understanding until WWI what horrors a modern war can bring.
Other than reenactment, there is little we celebrate from the Civil War; we honor the fallen on the most part. And states like California and Texas are American mutts with diverse blending of people and strong Hispanic heritage. Cinco de Mayo was an opportunity for California to show it’s support and protest of real and metaphorical comrades in arms in ways other than sending 49er gold to those who run the fighting.