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May 05, 2006  |  Cinco de Mayo  |  4858 hit(s)

Today is Cinco de Mayo, which has become a pan-Hispanic holiday in the U.S., something like the latino version of St. Patrick's Day. Some people mistakenly believe that this is Mexican Independence Day, perhaps. It's not, tho -- that's September 16.

Cinco de Mayo is a Mexican holiday, but it's not the biggest one by any means. The place it's particularly important is in the Mexican city of Puebla, which was the site of a battle that took place on May 5, 1862. Mexican troops defeated a French expeditionary force that was intent on taking Mexico City.

How exactly a day commemorating a military victory (in a war that was ultimately lost) came to be such a big deal in the U.S. is sort of mysterious. It's been adopted by folks from all over the Spanish-speaking world as Fiestas Patrias, a celebration of Hispanic pride. Not that there's anything wrong with that. It's not as if most other holidays haven't become unmoored from their putative origins and adapted into something that better suits the celabrants.

So happy Cinco de Mayo! Raise a glass to our southern neighbors and to the many ways in which we in the U.S. have uniquely benefited from the contributions of Mexican culture -- in language (savvy, mesa, macho, patio, siesta), food (chile, salsa, tacos, others too numerous to list), dress (sombrero, rebozo, huaraches), sport (rodeo), music (conjunto, norteña, mariachi, marimbas, maracas), dance, holidays (Dia de los Muertos, Cinco de Mayo), art (Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, pre-Columbian native work), literature (Octavio Paz, Carlos Fuentes, Gabriel Zaid, Laura Esquivel), film (Dolores del Río, Anthony Quinn, Los olvidados, Y tu mamá también, Amores Perros), ancient culture (Aztecs, Mayas), hospitality (Mazatlán, Cabo, Cancún, and everywhere in between), and plenty more.

And hey, the next time the French invade, remember Cinco the Mayo and the battle of Puebla.

Erika Ehrli   05 May 06 - 12:32 PM


You do know the real story, you surprised me. Nobody knows about Cinco de Mayo...

You blog is the best!

Minh   05 May 06 - 2:12 PM

Gotta love those marketers. I'd bet money it's big in the US because it gives companies an excuse to sell alcohol. While you're at it, any ideas on how a bunny got associated w/ Easter? ;-)

mike   05 May 06 - 2:26 PM

Bunnies and eggs are long-standing symbols of fertility. Easter is a holiday of rebirth -- most cultures have a holiday celebrating spring (planting, etc.). In, ahem, some religions, the rebirth is considered literal. Easter/spring/fertility/rebirth/planting celebrations are correlative to the harvest holiday (Halloween in our case).

We inherited the eggs from the Romans, who likewise celebrated spring and all the rest. The bunnies, not so sure.