Bah Humbug, Say Mexicans About Cinco De Mayo

Sara Miller Llana, Christian Science Monitor, May 5, 2010

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Despite popular misconception in the US, today is not Mexico’s Independence Day. May 5 instead marks the anniversary of the 1862 Battle of Puebla when the Mexican Army defeated the French. Compared to Sept. 16, the day Mexico commemorates its independence, or Easter week, or even upcoming Mother’s Day, Cinco de Mayo is practically a non-event.

Turning nothing into something

“It has been vastly commercialized on the [US] side of the border,” says Oscar Casares, who authored the novel “Amigoland” and teaches creative writing at the University of Texas at Austin. “They created this mythology of what it means to Mexicans when it is really a minor [holiday]. It is acknowledged but it certainly is not celebrated.”

Mr. Casares says the holiday found its way to the US in the 1950s and 60s, during the civil rights movement when Hispanic activists were attempting to foster goodwill between both nations and cultures. It was in the 1980s that marketers saw the holiday as a way to make a buck.

In Mexico, meanwhile, work goes on as normal, banks operate, and stores are open.

Not that the holiday is entirely ignored. {snip} But it’s not an event that most Mexicans would travel far to see.

Bah humbug, say Mexicans

“It is part of the history of our country,” says taxi driver Noel Perez in Mexico City, “but it is not relevant. The truth is we do not even know what it is we are celebrating. I do not even know why the French invaded Mexico.”

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What they can agree on is that a holiday barely noticed in Mexico City has morphed into essentially “Mexican pride” day in the US, the same way that St. PatrickĀ“s Day is celebrated. Like drinking Guinness on March 17, Americans today with no ties to Mexico will find a reason to eat tortilla chips and guacamole, many without being able to locate Puebla on a map.

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