The real significance of Cinco de Mayo
Tampa, FL – It is Cinco de Mayo, or May 5, but before you participate in “Cinco de Drink-o” and yell, “Happy Mexico Independence Day!” read this article.
In the late 1960s the Chicano movement started to commemorate the battle of Puebla and held annual events to mark that history. Over the years the Cinco de Mayo events spread to the point that they reached the ‘mainstream.’ Then U.S. beer companies started to sponsor the Cinco de Mayo events. Eventually Cinco de Mayo increasingly lost its political significance and became a marketing tool for alcohol and other products.
Looking back, it all started around 1862. Mexican President Benito Juárez, of indigenous, Oaxacan descent, declared Mexico would not pay any foreign debts for two years. France reacted by sending in troops to Mexico and demanding payment. What happened on May 5 was the Mexican victory in La Batalla de Puebla, or the Battle of Puebla. The battle was fought in the state of Puebla, Mexico and it was one of the few victories against the French. The poorly-equipped Mexican army defeated the powerful French army.
Just under 15 years earlier, in 1848, Mexico was invaded by another foreign power – the United States. After supporting pro-slavery American settlers who broke Texas away from Mexico, the U.S. took one-third of the land of Mexico, which is now the states of California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, Colorado, and even parts of Wyoming, Kansas and Oklahoma.
Once-Mexican people would now become trapped in a land that would not acknowledge them as Americans and one that Mexico would shun as non-Mexican. This was in 1848 – the U.S. war and takeover of what is now called the U.S. Southwest would become the homeland of the Chicano nation.
In Mexico, the Battle of Puebla is still remembered and will forever remain a victory for the Mexican people. But Cinco de Mayo is not celebrated in Mexico the way it is commercially celebrated in the U.S. In the U.S., we see major companies and various types of businesses push for parties, drinking, new liquors and ‘Mexican’ memorabilia.
The fact is, Cinco de Mayo is not mentioned in the U.S. as a day when Mexicans fought and won against foreign domination and in particular against France, which is still sending its troops to other countries. Never is the day called “La Batalla de Puebla,” and much less is it ever linked to the Chicano Nation and how it came to exist.
Donning ‘sombreros’ and shaking maracas is just plain incorrect and should not be encouraged. As far as the Independence of Mexico goes, that day is the 16th of September. In 1810 when father Miguel Hidalgo gave the Grito de Dolores, a cry for independence from Spain. And while U.S. beer companies and Dos Equis will keep finding a new beer to market, we remind everyone Cinco de Mayo meant much more to the people than getting drunk. The fifth of May symbolized the day people united to fight back against colonization and against the pillaging of their people by a foreign occupier.
Marisol Marquez is a member of Freedom Road Socialist Organization. Marquez organizes in Tampa with a group called Raices En Tampa. If you wish to contact her, you can message her on her twitter account: twitter.com/elmaryelsol