Last week Mexicans throughout the country and all around the globe marked the 154th anniversary of the Battle of Puebla.
A glorious moment in the Republic’s history was commemorated in the city of Puebla, the nation’s capital, Guadalajara and many other places with big parades, civic ceremonies and spectacular reenactments of the bloody 1862 encounter between Mexican and French troops.
Here in Chapala scores of local school kids marked the occasion with the formal raising of the flag and music and literary program on patriotic themes held on the esplanade opposite City Hall.
Cinco de Mayo is a somewhat peculiar holiday in the sense that while the ragtag and heavily outnumbered Mexican army won the battle against the world’s then most powerful military force, France eventually won the war, putting the country under the thumb of Napoleon III and the puppet regime of Emperor Maximilian I from 1864 until 1867. The story of Maximilian’s short rule ended badly, with his capture and execution by firing squad at Queretaro, and Empress Carlota’s fall into insanity for the rest of her life.
For the Mexican people May 5th is a date of deep symbolism and national pride. Though celebrated at home with far less hoopla than Independence Day (September 16) and Revolution Day (November 20), it represents the country’s strength to defend its sovereignty and overcome foreign invaders against all odds.
What is really strange is the way Cinco de Mayo has turned into the biggest day for celebrating Mexican and Latino identity in the United States and other foreign lands where average citizens are commonly clueless about the date’s significant historical background.
Although there are records of north-of-the border festivities going back more 150 years, the holiday really came into vogue in border state Latino enclaves during the 1980’s. Over the years lively Cinco de Mayo festivals wrapped around Mexican heritage and culture have emerged in places like Los Angeles, Houston, San Antonio, and as far north as Chicago, New York and Toronto.
Politicians have learned to take advantage of the holiday to curry favor among Latino voters. Barack Obama hosted his last Cinco de Mayo White House bash, welcoming 500 guests to a performance by rock band Maná and a spread of Mexican culinary treats put out by San Antonio celebrity chef Johnny Hernandez.
Presidential hopeful Hiliary Clinton showed up in L.A. to highlight her posture on immigration issues, a tactic that backfired when protestors appeared to bash her for pandering to Latinos. Rival Donald Trump fared no better, tweeting “I love Hispanics” as he gobbled down a definitely non-authentic taco bowl from the Trump Tower Grill.
The rising popularity of Cinco de Mayo celebrations in the United States is generally attributed to beer companies and other commercial outfits that latched on to the date as a marketing strategy to boost product sales. Their success has been legion, to the extent that nowadays throngs of all-American party hounds get out, intent on swilling down barrels of brew, gallons of tequila and margaritas, and perversely referring to the holiday as Cinco de Drinko.
Canadians are to be commended for taking a more dignified approach, with events such as the Royal Ontario Museum’s special exhibit of its textiles collection titled “¡Viva México! Clothing & Culture.”
Lakeside expats might keep in mind that for the native people, Cinco de Mayo remains as a constant reminder of deep-seated distrust of foreigners who don’t always hold the country’s best interests at heart.