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On Cinco de Mayo, a 'ridiculous' U.S. holiday

Cinco de Mayo
If you're in the United States, May 5 is an unofficial national holiday. Countless house parties, cultural festivals and bar specials will honor Cinco de Mayo, a Mexican holiday commemorating the Battle of Puebla in 1862, in which Mexican defenders beat back a powerful invading army from France.

But if you're in Mexico, today is ... Que? It's a holiday?

Among the many contradictions and ironies of Mexican-U.S. relations is the curious case of Cinco de Mayo. It is a holiday in Mexico, yes, but not nearly as important to the national identity as say, Independence Day (Sept. 16). Yet Cinco de Mayo remains a stubbornly prevalent excuse to party in the U.S., perhaps, some argue, because it is more culturally "safe" than honoring Mexico's independence. The phenomenon is similar to the affection Americans have for St. Patrick's Day, where just about everyone is invited to don green and get in touch with their inner Irish.

Almost 140 years after the Battle of Puebla, Cinco de Mayo is so ingrained in the U.S. consciousness that even the White House celebrates it. And this year, so will the Phoenix Suns. The basketball pros will take the court in a Western Conference semifinal game against the San Antonio Spurs wearing "Los Suns" on their jerseys.

For his part, columnist and author Gustavo Arellano, has had it with Cinco de Mayo. Calling for an end to the "ridiculous" celebration in the U.S., Arellano writes at the OC Weekly:

Many people regard Cinco de Mayo as a celebration of resistance to imperial power. If only that were so. The events of that day didn't prohibit the French from turning Mexico into their Latin American playground. Mexicans taste the French legacy every morning in their pan dulce and tortas. Teenagers listlessly practice it in quinceaƱera waltzes. Men yelp their approval to our French conquerors whenever the mariachi violins begin their pizzicato coda.

Read the whole piece here.

But what's your take? Will you have a regular old Wednesday today or dig into a chic new margarita recipe and a plate of piping-hot nachos? (Which, by the way, are almost unknown in Mexico!)

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Lazaro Arvizu, of Xipe Totec dance troupe, plays a flute during a performance that is part of the Cinco de Mayo festivities at El Pueblo de Los Angeles on May 5, 2010. Credit:Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times.

Comments () | Archives (26)

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Chuy, shut up. "White" is a race. "Mexican" is an adjective meaning "One of Mexico" . There are "white" people who are "Mexican".

Half of all Latin Americans in the US identify themselves as white on the US census, because they ARE white, like my dad, who speaks English with a very think accent because he was born and raised Northern Mexico, like his father and fathers fathers and etc.

In fact, YOU are probably part white, because the Spaniards (Spaniards are usually white, btw) mingled with the native population in Mexico and had children with the native population in Mexico. 80 percent of Mexicans are descendants of Europeans and Amerindians, ten percent are descendants from mostly European, etc. "White" and "Mexican" are not exclusive to each other. Go read a book. And I should add that you are a hypocrite. You call white people racist, well there you are, making generalizations about "them"and calling them names. Hypocrite.

And by the way, Cinco de Mayo is OUR holiday. The article glossed it over, but it was brought over because we wanted a holiday that could best represent what we were about. The Chicano rights movement in the 60's was essentially a battle against a large force, mainly discrimination and hopelessness.

That is why we chose Cinco de Mayo as our holiday, because it was about a small army facing a much larger army with very little chance of beating this large army, but fighting it anyways. That is what the Chicano movement was all about, fighting a seemingly lost battle.

In the US, Cinco de Mayo is not just a celebration of our brotherly ties with Mexico, or of Puebla defeating the French army; it is also about all the progress that Mexican-Americans have made, in our country, for our country, and eventually, for the country our fathers and grandfathers dearly loved. And we're proud of that.

Next May, the LA Times needs to do an entire article on the friendship/unity aspect between Mexicans & Americans instead of these ridiculous anti-Cinco de Mayo articles & derogatory quotes from haters like Gustavo Arellano.

LA Times OWES it to their readers to do that as a public service...we shouldnt have to wait for it to pop up in the comments forum!!

Awesome job, Cynthia...earlier today I just read the same historical summary you posted about 10 days ago & I was coming here to bring up the fact that Cinco de Mayo is a symbol of unity & friendship between Mexico & the US, between Americans & Mexicans.

Glad to see someone else beat me to it...this tremendous significance regarding the holiday has given me a new appreciation for Cinco de Mayo, even though I dont have a single drop of Mexican blood in my ancestry. I cannot wait to tell my many Mexican-American friends about the TRUE MEANING of the holiday...I'm surprised this facet of the holiday has not been emphasized before, because it NEEDS to be.

This is not just some historical revisionism as some folks might suspect...I checked sources that were published nearly a century ago & they confirm everything you mentioned. This is genuine LIVING history...

for people who dont know hope this helps =)

why should Americans savor this day as well? Because 4,000 Mexican soldiers smashed the French and traitor Mexican army of 8,000 at Puebla, Mexico, 100 miles east of Mexico City on the morning of May 5, 1862.

The French had landed in Mexico (along with Spanish and English troops) five months earlier on the pretext of collecting Mexican debts from the newly elected government of democratic President (and Indian) Benito Juarez. The English and Spanish quickly made deals and left. The French, however, had different ideas.

Under Emperor Napoleon III, who detested the United States, the French came to stay. They brought a Hapsburg prince with them to rule the new Mexican empire. His name was Maximilian; his wife, Carolota. Napoleon's French Army had not been defeated in 50 years, and it invaded Mexico with the finest modern equipment and with a newly reconstituted Foreign Legion. The French were not afraid of anyone, especially since the United States was embroiled in its own Civil War.

The French Army left the port of Vera Cruz to attack Mexico City to the west, as the French assumed that the Mexicans would give up should their capital fall to the enemy -- as European countries traditionally did.

Under the command of Texas-born General Zaragosa, (and the cavalry under the command of Colonel Porfirio Diaz, later to be Mexico's president and dictator), the Mexicans awaited. Brightly dressed French Dragoons led the enemy columns. The Mexican Army was less stylish.

General Zaragosa ordered Colonel Diaz to take his cavalry, the best in the world, out to the French flanks. In response, the French did a most stupid thing; they sent their cavalry off to chase Diaz and his men, who proceeded to butcher them. The remaining French infantrymen charged the Mexican defenders through sloppy mud from a thunderstorm and through hundreds of head of stampeding cattle stirred up by Indians armed only with machetes.

When the battle was over, many French were killed or wounded and their cavalry was being chased by Diaz' superb horsemen miles away. The Mexicans had won a great victory that kept Napoleon III from supplying the confederate rebels for another year, allowing the United States to build the greatest army the world had ever seen. This grand army smashed the Confederates at Gettysburg just 14 months after the battle of Puebla, essentially ending the Civil War.

Union forces were then rushed to the Texas/Mexican border under General Phil Sheridan, who made sure that the Mexicans got all the weapons and ammunition they needed to expel the French. American soldiers were discharged with their uniforms and rifles if they promised to join the Mexican Army to fight the French. The American Legion of Honor marched in the Victory Parade in Mexico, City.

It might be a historical stretch to credit the survival of the United States to those brave 4,000 Mexicans who faced an army twice as large in 1862. But who knows?

In gratitude, thousands of Mexicans crossed the border after Pearl Harbor to join the U.S. Armed Forces. As recently as the Persian Gulf War, Mexicans flooded American consulates with phone calls, trying to join up and fight another war for America.

Mexicans, you see, never forget who their friends are, and neither do Americans. That's why Cinco de Mayo is such a party -- A party that celebrates freedom and liberty. There are two ideals which Mexicans and Americans have fought shoulder to shoulder to protect, ever since the 5th of May, 1862. VIVA! el CINCO DE MAYO!!

This is an American holiday, which is why Mexicans don't celebrate it. There is a good reason why Americans celebrate cinco de mayo. The problem is that people don't know their history anymore. Therefore, they don't understand how the battle in Puebla affected the future of America. Every Mexican or American that has commented here should learn their history before they begin to comment nonsense. If you don't know why its celebrated here then don't comment because you just make yourself look naive.

Im a mexican resident who thinks that white people celebrating cinco de mayo is the most retarted thing white people can do. First of all I DONT even celebrate this, I mean I would probably consider celebrating this holiday if I was in mexico. Second, you white people dont wants us here for the reason that we are taking your jobs, which in this case they are jobs that you would never why are you celebrating anything that relates to us??? Third, I wouldnt mine you guys celebrating our independence day, but why celebrate a DUMB battle that everyone confuses we our independence day. Fouth, how would you like it if we started celebrating St. Patricks day??? or the battle of gettysburg ???? ITS THE SAME THING !!!!!!

I don't get Arellano's problem with Cinco de Mayo and I'm a South of the border Mexican. So what if QuinceaƱeras dance to a waltz or if we eat pan dulce? The important thing about Mexican culture (and any culture for that matter) it is that it is enriched by those little things; pan dulce, waltz, Halloween and even some Thanksgiving celebrations take place south of the border. What's wrong with USA acknowledging their Southern neighbors or distant places as Ireland with St Patrick's Day?

I know that getting wasted over Margaritas doesn't scream 'I'm proud of my heritage' but rather 'I may have an alcohol problem', but the point is that if people want to party they are going to do so, with or with out Cinco de Mayo or St. Patrick's as an excuse.

So yes, go make some nachos (we do know them), mix a margarita and for a few hours lets just forget the gloomy and difficult times we live in.

Congratulations to the heroic people of Mexico on Cinco de Mayo!

"No, no, you're doing it *wrong*!" Makes you want to throw in the multi-culti towel already...

Although I am not having any nachos or margaritas this evening, I do not see a problem in finding a reason to get together and have fun. Life is hard enough. Having a reason to put a smile on your face for a silly holiday is good enough for me. So who cares if it is not recognized in Mexico. If having this day brightens someones day or helps someone get through the week, who am I to judge?

smile be happy, drink your English hot tea.

Who cares if it's ridiculous, don't be such a wet blanket. We need more holidays, not less. i don't care what they do in Mexico, this is America, though I'm sure their bottling plants love it.

cinco de mayo isn't the main reason that the phoenix suns are switching to Los Suns. It is mostly a protest of the Arizona immigration law. Were you trying to whitewash that in a puff piece or did you not even read a single actual story about the move by the team?

Just another day to party folks....haven't had a good party since St. Patty's day (Easter is not much of a party day...). So along comes 5 de Mayo and we're ready!!! that case you haven't noticed....there's a bunch of us Latinos here in the states now...

The masses will look for any reason to get inebriated and justify it by saying it's a holiday. Pathetic.

I agree with the author in this ridiculous so called Cinco De Mayo celelabration.
For year when I was a young kid I always thought this to be the Independence Day for Mexico. It was always celebrated in the US schools. It was not until I was have way into my high school years that I learned that our real independence day was on September the 16th after a debate with one of the student that have been in Mexico more than I have. So don't feel alone in this.

I live in Chicago, and I think the majority of people celebrating are the Caucasians, sure there are some Mexicans who celebrate, but for the most part it's others who don't even know why they're out partying. Dumb, I say.

I don't know if I agree with Gustavo. While I definitely tend to roll my eyes at all the stereotypical Mexican imagery that pops up around Cinco de Mayo -- seriously, find ONE image that does not contain a maraca, serape, jolly-Mexican type, or a margarita -- I do think the holiday is valuable in that it forces Americans to actually acknowledge the Mexican influence in this country. Cinco de Mayo is not a matter of recognizing the battle itself; that was the original meaning, but it's come to represent, I think for many Latinos, an acknowledgement of our presence in this country. And it's a *positive* acknowledgement! How often does that happen nowadays?

Who cares it's just a reason to party! Same with St. Patrick's day. I'm neither Irish nor Mexican, however any "holiday" no matter how important it is to me or the rest of the world is still a great day to down some beers and take a couple shots. Any reason is a good reason to get a little bit (or alotta bit) drunk with your friends! So why is it such a big deal? We just wanna party

In a multicultural society, each identity group gets a celebration. Columbus day for the Italians, St. Patrick's day for the Irish, and St. Lucia day for the Swedes.
Of course, none for the Germans and Japanese because of the wars. None for White Southerners because of their traitorous sedition and rebellion.
But, for "Mexicans" (or Latinos), Cinco de Mayo.

Why so critical? In a world besieged by hatred can you let this one go so people can have a little fun and celebrate?

i like the holiday

sure it is

celebrated because it's more "cultural 'safe'" than Mexico's independence day?

GIVE ME AIR!!!!!! Precisely who is "threatened" by Mexico's independence day?

I agree 100% The celebration is contrived by Jose Cuervo and Carona.

I personally don't celebrate Cinco de Mayo and I have my reasons for it. Like the article said many mexicans in Mexico do not celebrate it. It's an American celebration, and many young people use it as an excuse to drink and become rodwy. If you ask anyone here in the U.S what Cinco de Mayo stands for they will say that Cinco de Mayo is Mexican independence day. I love my mexican culture, but if people in Mexico dont celebrate it why should I.


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Ken Ellingwood
Daniel Hernandez
Efrain Hernandez Jr.
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