Today is Cinco de Mayo- everyone has their sombrero on hand, planning the happy hour, ready to enjoy some tequila or coronas and with a bowl of guacamoles, tacos and quesadillas to celebrate MEXICAN INDEPENDENCE DAY!!!
But wait. Mexican Independence is actually September 16…
Cinco de Mayo is an AMERICAN HOLIDAY, which commemorates the triumph of the Mexican army at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. This victory occurred over 50 years after Mexico’s Independence Day.
When I first met David Hayes-Bautista, Professor of Medicine and Director of the Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture at the University of California Los Angeles, I was flabbergasted about how differently our history had been portrayed! He has written that Cinco de Mayo is very much an American holiday- connected to the Civil War.
His research shows that the celebration began among Mexicans in California in the mid-19th century. The Battle of Puebla, he explained, occurred at a time when the Confederacy was expanding into New Mexico and Arizona, getting closer to California. Back then, when Latinos here got the news that French were stopped at Puebla, folks were motivated to defend their land and civic engagement increased- Latinos joined the Union army and navy and some went back to Mexico
“For Mexicans in the U.S., the Civil War and the French invasion of Mexico were like one war with two fronts. They were concerned about France, which sided with the Confederacy, being on America’s doorstep.” States Dr. Hayes-Bautista. Had the Battle of Puebla gone differently, there is a real chance that the Civil War might have gone differently. Texan-born General Ignacio Zaragosa, the real hero of the battle, led the Mexican forces to fight the French army- which means an AMERICAN, of Mexican descent protected our southern border. This Tejano from Mexico, or Tex-Mex emphasizes the intertwined history of Mexico and the USA, that in fact, Latinos have actively contributed, in a very positive way to the freedoms and liberties that have forged the United States.
Since then, Cinco de Mayo, has evolved into a “Mexican” party, promoted by alcohol and restaurants to reach Hispanics and sell more tequila and cervezas. Cinco de Mayo is so embedded into our American culture that the holiday has its own commemorative postage stamp! Coincidentally, Mexicans that visit the US during the Cinco de mayo are quite perplexed about our festivities…
So, enjoy your adult beverage tonight, but do remember that you are celebrating an AMERICAN holiday and our history is heavily influenced by our neighbors.