Thursday, May 5 we will celebrate Cinco de Mayo. It is meant to be a festive occasion. In America, even non-Mexicans join in the fun. After all, who does not enjoy a party? Who does not want to eat and drink at a discount? Every year on May 5, many of us eat tacos and enchiladas and drink tequila and margaritas and dress in Mexican garb to celebrate. Anyone care for a “dirty taco?”
There are a myriad of ways to celebrate the day, such as mariachi band concerts, river cruises, festivals, and parades. In addition, many restaurants offer special deals and specialized drinks on this date to attract customers. Anyone “up” a “tipsy shark” or a “dal Rita?”
Typically, most Americans have no idea of the significance of the holiday. They may assume that it is some religious festival or has something to do with Mexico’s independence from Spain. That would be wrong and wrong. See below, and be edified.
In 1861 France invaded Mexico. Napoleon III, the ruler of France at the time, correctly perceived that Mexico was “ripe for the picking.” The Mexican-American War of 1846-48 had virtually bankrupted the country. The US was distracted by its impending Civil War and thus, unable to oppose France in Mexico. The other European powers, notably Spain and England, were not in the picture.
At first, the French, with their superior numbers, equipment and training, routed the Mexicans, but on May 5, 1862 the Mexicans surprisingly defeated the French decisively in a major battle near Puebla, halting their advance. The Civil War ended in 1865, and, thereafter, the US was able to assist Mexico. Eventually, the French needed their military assets at home to prepare to fight the Prussians [in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71)], so they abandoned their plans to conquer Mexico and withdrew.
The battle at Puebla was significant for several reasons:
1. Though largely symbolic, this victory gave the Mexicans a much-needed infusion of patriotism and national pride.
2. Since then, no country in the Americas has been invaded successfully by a European country.
3. Most importantly for the US, many historians believe that France’s ultimate goal was to encourage and enable the South to break away from the North. Mexico could have been used as a military base from which France could have funneled men and equipment to the Confederacy. If they had not been defeated at Puebla, who knows how far north their army would have pushed and who knows what military and political pressure they would have brought to bear against the US. It’s possible France could have ended up dominating the entire West Coast of present-day US. Consequently, it can be posited that that victory helped preserve the Union.
Cinco de Mayo is celebrated not only in Mexico, but also in many other countries. Cities in the US, Canada, the Cayman Islands, Jamaica, Australia, New Zealand and Japan hold festivals featuring Mexican music, food and drink and celebrating Mexican culture.
Technically, Cinco de Mayo, though recognized as a day of celebration throughout Mexico, is not a national holiday, although it is a holiday in the State of Puebla. Throughout the country, the public schools are closed and many towns hold parades or re-enactments of the battle of Puebla. It should be noted that Cinco de Mayo is NOT to be confused with Mexican Independence Day, which is September 16.
Additionally, Cinco de Mayo is celebrated in many areas of the US, particularly in locales where there is a sizeable Mexican population, such as Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. As I said above, events include parades, festivals, mariachi bands, and parties. In the past two years COVID fears put a damper on celebrations in some areas, but I believe now many Americans are sick of being restricted and are anxious to “bust loose.”
Cinco de Mayo is supposed to be a joyous holiday, as it celebrates an heroic occasion. Many non-Mexicans also get into the spirit of the holiday and participate in the above celebrations. They dress in Mexican clothing, such as ponchos and sombreros, participate in parades, and patronize Mexican restaurants. In recent years, some so-called “pc police” have objected to this, calling it mocking a culture and even racist (their favorite fallback criticism). For example, various “woke” communities and universities have placed restrictions or outright bans on celebrations. Moreover, some colleges have gone so far as to ban using the name “Cinco de Mayo.”
Personally, I find these restrictive actions offensive and a violation of the First Amendment. It’s not as if the celebrants are painting offensive sayings or publishing mocking cartoons. Wearing ponchos and sombreros and dancing the “Mexican Hat Dance” do not rise to the level of, say, anti-Semitic scribblings on walls, burning a cross on a lawn, or fire-bombing places of worship. THOSE are offensive, or worse. This merely strikes me as getting into the holiday spirit, not being mean-spirited.
Once again, the majority is being subjected to the tyranny of the vocal minority. Remember, approximately 80% of the tweets are posted by only 10% of the people, so don’t be fooled by the vocal minority. As an aside, I have to say that in my youth we would have dealt with the pc crowd differently. Rather than kowtow, we would have made it point to parade down main street wearing sombreros and ponchos, drinking tequila and dancing the Mexican hat dance. Times have sure changed, and not necessarily for the better.
As I delineated above, Cinco de Mayo is a great source of pride for people of Mexican descent, as well it should be. It commemorates a significant military victory over a better-equipped, numerically superior force. The victory held considerable historical significance and should be celebrated.