May 5, 2008

Cinco de Mayo: Dispelling Gringo Drinko Myths

Mas tequila?
The very basics of this Fifth of May are that Cinco de Mayo commemorates a victory by Mexican forces over the French on May 5, 1862 in the Battle of Puebla. The French, along with the English and Spanish, sent troops to Mexico because the previous government had rung up a sizable debt and they intended to collect what was owed to them. The English had occupied the port of Veracruz and the French occupied Puebla, which is roughly half way between Mexico City and Veracruz. The Mexicans had managed to expel the French from Puebla on May 5, but, shortly thereafter, 29,000 troops were went to Mexico by Napoleon III. It was a brief upswing in a very turbulent period of Mexican history.

An important point to make is that when new regimes come to power, it is very unwise to unilaterally decide to cancel debts made by the previous government, lest they be occupied. Cinco de Mayo is a slightly regionalized event in Mexico, with the state of Puebla, unsurprisingly, celebrating the event the most.

In this country, however, Cinco de Mayo is portrayed as this day of celebration of Mexican heritage as a whole. Most Americans would be hard pressed to tell you what exactly happened on the Fifth of May that was worth celebrating and would assume it was some kind of Mexican St. Patrick's Day. All manners of Americans use this day as a means to an end: to drink terrible Mexican beers like Corona or drinking terrible Mexican tequila like Jose Cuervo (usually in margaritas, or, not uncommonly, taken tequila cruda by licking salt off ones hand, taking a shot, and then biting a lime wedge) with the sole intent of making this Cinco de Drinko the best one they will not remember. It is not dissimilar at all from doing shots of Jameson, drinking Guinness, or oddly celebrating the Irish Republic Army by drinking the explosively named Irish Car Bomb, but completely similar in the co-opting of one ethnic group's holiday and making it into an awkward celebration of the very essence of being a member of that group even if you are not.

As one whose ancestors were a part of the ethnic group who were defeated in the Battle of Puebla, I'll spend my day trying to find passable Mexican food in St. Louis and probably having a margarita.

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