By Zach Foster
I fail to see how and why any self-respecting Mexican-American would feel pride in celebrating a “holiday” that has little or no symbolic value and absolutely no cultural or social value as it is celebrated in the United States. Cinco de Mayo—or Drinko de Mayo, as it is known by police departments throughout the U.S. and by their annual overnight guests—is more of an insult to our culture than words can express.
Contrary to popular belief, May 5th is NOT the Mexican Independence Day (that’s the 16th of September), but rather the date of the Battle of Puebla, in which the Mexican Army defeated the invading French Army. As cool as this may sound (mostly because the French violated the Monroe Doctrine and deserved the 1866 uprising they got), this victory, which was of little strategic importance, is belittled by the fact that the Mexican army LOST THE WAR. The loss of the war to the French led to the formation of the Second Mexican Empire with Austrian Archduke Maximilian established as Emperor of Mexico. Celebrating one victorious battle in a lost war is akin so Southerners throwing a party to commemorate the First Battle of Bull Run despite a certain indiscretion that occurred in April of 1865, or of Americans celebrating how much Viet Cong tail was kicked during the Tet Offensive, despite the fall of South Vietnam seven years later. Clearly this fake holiday, which has little to commemorate, is simply an excuse to party. This is nothing special, since my friends and I party all the time anyway.
The original purpose of inventing the holiday was to introduce Chicano studies into school curriculum—an honorable endeavor, since Mexican-Americans have made great contributions to this country’s history and traditions. Countless Chicanos in this country are teachers, firefighters, police officers, and statesmen, and countless Chicanos have demonstrated their patriotism to the U.S.A. in combat, from the mountains of Korea and the jungles of Vietnam to the deserts of Afghanistan and Iraq—not to mention the earlier wars in which they aided the Stars and Stripes and even the Stars and Bars (ever heard of Texas and Florida?). Being one of the largest ethnic groups in the country, it is absolutely beneficial for the sake of cultural and historical understanding that Chicanos are represented in school curriculum. Unfortunately, celebrating September the 16th is too much of a pain in the neck because it falls at the beginning of the school year—bad time for a holiday—and is also shadowed by the lingering sadness of September 11th.
What Chicanos should have gotten and what they actually got is very different and unfortunate. Even within Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is only regionally celebrated—mostly within the state of Puebla—and not for the purpose of cultural enrichment but more as a reminder of a historical event—akin to having a barbeque following the local Civil War reenactment, though a barbeque less spectacular than those on July 4th and Labor Day. Unfortunately, within the United States this has led to foolhardy celebrations of the abstract. Some are rather tasteful festivals in which dancers, artists, and cooks display the regional art forms and cuisine native to Puebla (which is already done in Puebla and by descendants of Puebla emigrants—and on a greater scale—on September 16th and Day of the Dead). Unfortunately, the vast majority of Cinco de Mayo celebrations in the States are foolish efforts at cultural enrichment, spearheaded by Chicano nationalists whose ignorance is matched only by their militancy, in which tacos and burritos are consumed in a Roman fashion, followed by downing as many bottles of Dos Equis, Tecate, and Corona as humanly possible, with the hopes of dodging both law enforcement and alcohol poisoning.
This does a huge disservice to our Mexican-American culture, whose only spokesmen in the United States seem to be: 1) comedian George Lopez—who frequently has me in stitches—whose comedy and cultural jokes I love and appreciate, but whose loudly proclaimed politics do NOT remotely match mine, nor those of most Mexican-Americans; 2) the serial adulterer and crony collector Antonio Villaraigosa; and 3) the ultra-leftist university professors who try their best to resolve their Chicano Nationalism with their fanatical faith in Marxism and international socialism. I’d rather stay in touch with my ethnic heritage on my own terms, independent of the above vanguards. I do this whenever I mix my own Jamaica drink, when I agree with some of Rudy Acuña’s theses and disagree with others, and when I keep up with the relatives over Facebook. Though the drug war has kept me away from the old country for over three years, my family and I make a point to visit the relatives south of the border as often as possible. This is what it is to be Mexican-American, NOT going out of my way to reinforce every negative stereotype about Mexicans on Drinko de Mayo.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I don’t need a holiday to get drunk or to eat only a small sampling of Mexican food. When I feel like eating some delicious chile rellenos or quesadillas made with Menonite cheese, I’ll do it simply because I want to. Though I am technically keeping the culture alive when I drink horchata or watch a Cantinflas film (I recommend El Padrecito), I do them simply because I want to and have the liberty to do so, not because I feel some overwhelming sense of duty to keep the culture alive.
Being an American, I’m a man of many cultures. My primary culture is the industry-driven, cheeseburger-eating, car driving 9-to-5 Anglo culture. This is my daily life and the norm for my countrymen. Then there is my ethnic culture, which I observe around the household, with family members, and with other Mexican-Americans. When I’m neither eating a Big Mac and discussing the joke that is the contemporary U.S. Congress, I’m enjoying a plate of Pad Thai noodles and Pad Soo Eu, washing them down with either a Thai Ice Tea or a Singha. When I have the time, I’ll watch some of my favorite Asian films—most of them from South Korea—such as Tae Guk Gi, JSA, and 71: Into the Fire. Many a Saturday night have I spent enjoying various rolls at the Sushi Bars in Rowland Heights (jokingly called Asian Heights by its proud inhabitants and their neighbors from Hacienda Heights). When I drink beer with the boys, I prefer a Belgian white ale and fondly remember the breweries whose magical elixirs I sampled in Germany, Belgium, and Luxemburg when I wasn't admiring cathedrals and museums. Furthermore, I’m not alone in this uniquely American multiculturalism. Therefore, why do we need to invent useless holidays when we observe cultural rites every day?