LatinaLista — Cinco de Mayo has been celebrated in the U.S., especially in the southwest, for as long as people can remember. The day, along with Sept. 16, are big days, we were taught, in Mexico, the land of where the majority of U.S. Latinos trace their heritage.
But truth be known, the only day that is really celebrated on the same scale in Mexico as the U.S. is Sept. 16, Mexican Independence Day. Cinco de Mayo isn’t that big a deal in Mexico.
The point was brought home to me while reading the blog of a friend of mine who is from Mexico but has lived in New York City for a while now. In commenting on how a Texas border town had crowned a “Miss Cinco de Mayo,” my friend observed that she had never heard of such a thing nor grew up with anything like it in Mexico.
So it got me to thinking — why would we, Mexican-Americans/Latinos, basically hijack a Mexican holiday and make it our own?
The answer came to me via another friend who happened to share a booklet titled Cinco de Mayo Has Historical Significance for the United States.
The booklet details the fact that Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican Independence Day but commemorates the Battle of Puebla where an underdog Mexican army defeated Napoleon’s world-class soldiers at Puebla, and forced them to retreat.
The example set forth by the ragtag Mexican army served to inspire Chicano activists who were fighting their own battles in the 60s.
Chicano activists fighting for equality and civil rights in the 60s and 70s began celebrating el Cinco de Mayo because it represented victory in the face of great odds. Just as they were at battle to gain greater rights and respect as a minority group in the United States, they felt that if the young, ill-equipped Mexican army at the Battle of Puebla was able to prevail over a superpower, then they, too, could prevail in their efforts to obtain equal voice and equal rights in voting, education, housing, and representation, to name a few areas of focus and advocacy.
So, while we may have made Cinco de Mayo our own, it was for a good reason and a worthy cause.