Cinco de WHYo: How the Mexican “Holiday” is a Bit Different this Year

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You don’t need to be fluent in Spanish to know that Cinco de Mayo is on the 5th of May…that only requires a brain cell or two.  I will however make the claim that one must be a moderately astute history buff to know what the Battle of Puebla is.  Perhaps my assumptions here are too brazen, but I am far from the only American who is making haphazard assumptions as to why we drown ourselves in Guacamole on this “high holy day.”  A bit of research goes a long way.  A glass of tequila goes even further.  Pour one up and take the time to understand why we celebrate Mexico on this day in the states, but more importantly, understand why 5/5/ in 2017 is the most ironic fiesta yet.

Tequila Shot #1: The History Brief

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Contrary to the popular belief, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican Independence Day…that would be September 16th.  Instead, limes are cut and sombreros are donned in commemoration of Mexicos unlikely victory at the Battle of Puebla against a formidable French invasion during the imperial regimes of the mid 1800’s.  You see, Mexico was in a bit of a rut and had some international debt that their ass simply could not cash out.  Like a gambler in the red pleading to his bookie, Mexico was in such dire straights that they asked for a pardon on their accounts payable to a number of European Nations.  After a dismantling civil war plagued the country, all but one playground bully appeased to the Mexican plea i.e. the damn French.  These were the Napoleon days for France, a time where countries were being collected like state quarters.  The opportunist crown gave the struggling Mexico no slack and demanded every last pesos they were owed.  With little to no options, Mexico stood its ground and braced themselves for what was sure to be a crippling defeat under the behemoth that was the French military.  Battle lines drawn, swords sharpened, and guns loaded, Mexico decided to stand its ground at one of their forts in a town called Puebla.  Facing ground forces that outnumber them 4 to 1, miraculously the Mexican troops thwarted the French advancement.  The underdog victory is still considered to be one the most unexpected in militant history and acted as an all encompassing morale boost for the fumbling country.  While the Battle of Puebla is still an anomaly, unfortunately the saying holds true that winning a battle doesn’t mean you have championed the war.  A year later Napoleon returned with an army 10-fold in size and took the Mexican throne from the natives of the land.  Three years later, after Americas own Civil War, the US was able to reassume its role as the Western police force as we ousted the French, marking the last time (to this day) that a European Country has sieged a Western Nation.  In all, the May 5th battle at Puebla was nothing more than a morale booster, a cocaine substitute as the Columbian cartels weren’t trapping out the bando, thus making May 5th an trivial blip on a pauperized radar.  Fin.

Tequila Shot #2: What the Mexican Textbooks Say

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Juxtapose a Mexican textbook and an American one and skip ahead to chapter 6.   The contrast between the representation for what May 5th represents is like a 1940’s television, black & white.  The Mexican books will recall the Battle of Puebla and will do so only briefly.  The Battle was little more than a locker room pep talk at the time; a single W on a season record slandered with a sub .500 record.  While the Mexican David did defeat the French Goliath, it simply delayed the inevitable.  For that reason, Mexicans in the 21st Century recall Cinco de Mayo as a militant victory that warrants only a few words of prayer rather than a slated statuary holiday.  Schools stay open, commuters set their alarms, and the bank lights are on.  No parades.  No parties. And certainly no flying tequila monsters ravaging los ramblas.  Instead, the day acts as a symbol to the Mexican people…a subtle reminder as to the strength and resilience that a patriotic military can accomplish when one fights on their own land for the preservation of their culture and livelihood.

Tequila Shot #3: What the American Textbooks Say

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I’ve cried foul before in reference to the ever-fleeting meaning we as a country tack on to our Holidays.  It makes sense, I suppose, that as time lunges on and historical dates collect more and more dust, the true essence as to why we are celebrating begins to escape us.  Normally, it’s not until a left-winged activists finds a tall enough soap box to preach from, claiming that Columbus Day should be buried as it commemorates the violent displacement of a people from their homeland.  Or that Halloween has a demonic backstory intertwined with medieval witchcraft and town hall beheadings.  When we raise a glass on the 5th of May, our beer goggles are strapped on so tight that we are completely blind, or simply apathetic, to what it is we are actually celebrating.  Puebla was seldom taught if ever, yet our calendars are still marked.  The American textbooks only delve so deep in uncovering the meaning of 5/5.  Instead we have placed our own symbolic meaning on the day.  It stands now to represent a fostered and longstanding relationship with our southern neighbors.  With over 30M Mexo-Americans (legally) registered throughout the 50 states, the day does deserve some observance…evidently we honor the day with Casamigos and Don Julio, the real  Mexo-American icons.

Tequila Shot #4: The American Celebration

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Mexicans occupy a massive swathe of the quilt that is American diversity.  While they didn’t immigrate through Ellis Island, our border buddies sought the American dream like the rest of our foreign brethren.  Push factors were plentiful for the Mexicans; lousy infrastructure, a crumbling economy, poor healthcare and disease prevention, and crippling cases of Montezumas revenge.  Pull factors, however, seemed to be the real catalyst to move people from the four corners of this world to take a bite out of American pie.  Cities like LA, Chicago, and Dallas became Mexican crock pots, I mean hot spots, offering the South Americans a new frontier to settle and prosper from.  With such a large populace, the Mexican culture permeated American soil and with that came the holidays and traditions.  The ill informed American people mistook Cinco de Mayo for a more premier day on the Mexican calendar and ran with it.  After a few years of observing the militant anniversary, opportunistic businessmen took the reigns and steered Cinco de Mayo down the good ole’ Halmark Holiday Path.  Here it stands today, an economic driver that results in millions of dollars of tequila and avocado sales, a true testament to the spin selling that the American dream is capable of conjuring.

Tequila Shot #5: The Irony in the Trump Era

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For decades now, the POTUS has opened the pearly gates in Washington to play host to the most important influencers within the Mexo-American sphere.  Obama, Bush, and Clinton all catered to hundreds of the relevant folks that epitomize the strengthened relationship between the states and Mexico.  Political figures, athletes, performers, and activist have flooded the home of the President every Cinco de Mayo to celebrate the glory of having neighbors kind enough to throw the ball back over the fence whenever a child puts a little too much hip in his backswing.  George W. Bush said it best, mi casa blanca es su casa blanca!  

Border countries without natural boundaries have always been a pesky dilemma for the politicians to hash out.  Ain’t no river wide enough, ain’t no valley low enough, to keep them to getting to us and now we tack paramount importance on another over played rock ballad we call Immigration Reform.  Donald Trump is to immigration reform as Salma Hyek is to the Mexican people…the biggest ass around!  One of Trumps original campaign promises on his path to MAGA was his great wall.  Not so different than the one in China, DT devised a swiss cheese plan to finally make a brick and mortar boundary under the simple precedent that great fences make great neighbors.  Calamity ensued, racial slurs were delivered, anti Trump rhetoric filled the tabloids, and 100 and something days later, we still remain wall-less.  Like the symbol that was the victory in Puebla, Trumps wall represented something far greater than the amazing customer service on hand at Home Depot…the intentions of the wall, whether it is built or not, stands to make the claim that Mexicans no longer have a seat at our dinner table without being invited first.  No soup for you!

Tequila Shot #6: This Party is Kind of Awkward

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The headlines should be fun as todays celebration drags on.  Like the frat bro who got a little too drunk and made some questionable, public decisions, Trump will likely attempt to fly below the radar.  Today is the most prolific day on the calendar to celebrate our ongoing relationship with Mexico, but it seems like the party should be rain checked for a more benign day.  They are hurt; economically, politically, and personally bludgeoned by the very country who helped to emancipate them from their conquerors amidst the Puebla days.  Trump isn’t at all expected to shoulder the entire blame; remember we the people put him in the Oval Office.  As such, we aided and embedded in this deteriorating relationship.  Are we really in any position to celebrate our not-so-neighborly bond?  Probably not.

Tequila Shot #7: The Hangover

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As with all situations that float in the PR void known as “America First,” we have once again taken up all of the space on the podium.  Cinco de Mayo in America is like apple picking, only the best and brightest samples in the tree will get chosen…the rest left to rot.  We like their tequila and their cuisine yet we plea the 5th whenever we are asked to share the burden Mexico is dealing with.  We certainly have every single right to pick and chose when it comes to our involvement, but its irksome, for me at least, to celebrate our relationship when we are creating a tangible barrier between us and them.  Sure, there is a lot more to the story than this 2,000 work quip entails, but nevertheless…having your cake and eating it too is never easy.

Adios.

 

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