Do you know what Cinco de Mayo celebrates? If not, don’t feel bad. Few people seem to.
The “Battle of Puebla” took place on May 5, 1862; in this battle, less well-trained Mexican forces turned back a French force led by Napoleon III. (The photo above depicts a re-enactment in Mexico City.) Not many in the United States paid attention to what was happening in Mexico at the time, understandably, since we were in the midst of our own domestic war at the time.
“… during the post-civil rights era in the Southwestern United States, high school and college students of Mexican origin (sometimes referred to as “Chicanos”) sought and found a source of pride in their heritage — often feeling unwelcome in the U.S. and in Mexico.”
The rise of Cinco de Mayo came with an uniquely Mexican-American twist …
North of the border, Mexican Americans feel little need to celebrate independence from Spain and often are ambivalent in their patriotism towards Mexico. In fact, most U.S. residents of Mexican origin fled their home country in search of a lifestyle that their home country could not make available to them. Despite the history of racism and unequal treatment in the U.S., America is much more of a meritocracy than Mexico has ever been. Mexican migrants (legal and illegal) struggle for the American dream and frequently find it, or at the very least find gainful employment to provide for their families and hope for the long-term well-being of their loved ones.
In these days of border wars and anti-immigration hysteria, try and take a moment from your own Cinco de Mayo celebration and remember in many ways, the day is commemorative less of a single battle 152 years ago than it is of the idea of the American melting pot and the United States viewed as the land of opportunity.
That, friends, is worth a toast.