Have you ever wondered how come Cinco de Mayo is always celebrated by the “Gringos” as a Mexican Holiday thinking it is Independence Day? I have always wondered about that too, and I don’t think I will ever understand.
I call this Holiday the “Non Cinco de Mayo Day”, kind of like the song from Alice in Wonderland to celebrate the “Non Birthday” or in Spanish the “!Feliz, Feliz, No cumpleaños!”. I grew up in Mexico listening to the Alicia en el Pais de las Maravillas fairy tale narrated from a voice on a vinyl record (yeah kids, one of those huge round plastic records you probably will see in the Museum of Musical Antiques). By the way, I thought the record was pretty slick, it was a bright red vinyl color and it had a picture of Alice in the middle. Anyway, I love the scene where Alice gets invited to the tea party celebrated by Mad Hatter and March Hare to celebrate their un-birthdays, and then she realizes it is her un-birthday as well because it IS NOT her actual birthday so they start celebrating! That’s how I feel about Cinco de Mayo in the United States; it is a celebration of the Non-Cinco de Mayo Day, because people have it all wrong.
I remember when I was living in Mexico; Cinco de Mayo was a day to celebrate the Battle of Puebla, basically when the Mexican Army fought the French Army to gain independence from France (Oooh lah, lah!, in which case we would be speaking “Frañol” instead of “Spanglish”) . At the time of this event, it represented a lot of pride to the Mexican people for fighting and defeating such a European Colonial power. As a young student back then, it was a time to hold “honores a la bandera” in the main school patio, and maybe participate as a marching group all the way to “el centro”, otherwise it would be normal to see the Mexican Army march in a low key parade. To this date, this holiday is celebrated throughout Mexico as a sign of unity, patriotism, and courage, and a reenactment of the battle of Puebla is broadcasted on TV from the City of Puebla on national TV. The President of Mexico salutes the marching Mexican Army parading through the streets in el Zócalo, and that’s about it. People go on about their business just like any other day, no margarita specials on each restaurant in every corner, no mass media beer commercials, no crazy gringos with the big Mexican Revolutionary Hats getting drunk at the local bars, no mariachis playing unless is Plaza Garibaldi.
When I started working as an intern at the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, we once got an email letter distributed to all the NASA centers in the United States by the NASA administrator back then reminding us about the pride and heritage of this celebration and congratulating all the Hispanics about the Mexican Independence, or something to that extent. I found so many wrong things with that letter, not only because not all Hispanics are Mexican, and not all Mexicans celebrate such Holiday, but also because it was a misinformed written statement. I was only an intern back then, but I wrote a letter back to whoever was in charge of distributing this email, clarifying first of all, it was not Mexican Independence Day and it was not a Hispanic Holiday, because I’m sure many Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Venezuelans, Colombians, Panamanians and so forth would be offended. The next day, throughout all the NASA centers, we got another email letter from the NASA administrator apologizing for the confusion and ever since, my wonderful coworkers make it a point to congratulate me every Cinco de Mayo for the Mexican Independence Day. Even though I don’t work with these colleagues anymore since I changed groups, and even though I don’t celebrate this Day like most people do in the U.S., I always look forward to their funny emails every year, it makes me laugh and it reminds me of such a hilarious anecdote.
As a Mexican, I understand the yearning to celebrate this Holiday in the United States for many Mexicans who live here, because after all, there is no National Holiday to celebrate the “Mexicanity”’ of the people, so in turn it has become more of a cultural celebration of many levels. For Mexicans, Chicanos, and Mexican-Americans living in the U.S., it has become a reason to celebrate the greatness of the Mexican culture and its heritage, while for the rest: a reason for the media to make sales and a reason for the people to get drunk, eat fajitas, chimichangas, burritos, sopapillas and all the "non existant Mexican food in Mexico" sold here, and of course, to have fun! I’m not against such celebration, and I respect the reasons for others to celebrate such day. So whatever the reason is for celebrating this Holiday, call me orthodox or party pooper, all I know is I’m celebrating the Non-Cinco de Mayo today just like any other day: I will probably take walk around the neighborhood, play with my daughter at the park, eat dinner with my husband, go to sleep, and wait for the next day to come.
Feliz Non-Cinco de Mayo!