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Some years ago, several co-workers and I decided to have a little get-together after work to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. It was late April and we put up notices to inform the rest of the department, giving the time and place. My office mate, Gary, was a genius when it came to database design and network optimization. Sadly, that was about the extent of Gary’s analytical capabilities. He asked me, “Sounds like fun. So what day is this party?”
Although more calendar-literate than Gary, most people don’t seem to know what’s even being celebrated. Many think that it’s Mexico’s Independence Day (it isn’t — that’s on Sept. 16).
The origin of the Cinco de Mayo celebration dates back to the battle of Puebla (May 5, 1862) in which the Mexicans, greatly outnumbered by a superior invading army, defeated the French.
Although Mexico won that battle, it eventually lost the war and was occupied by the French for several years afterward. (France placed the Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian as Emperor of Mexico). In much of Mexico, the battle of Puebla holds minor significance and for the most part is only observed by the State of Puebla.
Note to readers: When I say that Puebla is a “State” of Mexico, I mean it in somewhat the same way we view states in America. The official name of Mexico — Estados Unidos Mexicanos, means “The United Mexican States,” or essentially the United States of Mexico. Mexico is comprised of 31 states, which probably explains why they chose not to use stars to depict the states. After all, how would you arrange a prime number like 31 stars in a nice geometric pattern?
Anyway, Cinco de Mayo is most certainly celebrated here in America. The reason for this dates back to the French occupation of Mexico. At that time, America was entrenched in its own problems (a little scuffle called the Civil War), but we didn’t particularly like having the French as neighbors. Upon completion of the Civil War, America began to provide some assistance to the Mexicans who ultimately beat back the French with their own baguettes, executed Maximilian, had a few shots of tequila and reinstated noontime siestas.
And so Americans began celebrating Cinco de Mayo in order to acknowledge Mexico’s valiant efforts against the French, give credence to Mexico’s sovereignty and demonstrate an appreciation for the depth and beauty of Mexican culture. Well either that, or it was just another great example of how Americans work diligently to find any excuse to have a party.
I think we should leverage this thinking and extend it to other obscure reasons to party. How about celebrating the Battle of Carabobo (June 21), a decisive victory that led to the independence of Venezuela. I don’t really care one way or the other about Venezuelan independence, but I think it would be cool to have a celebration called Carabobo.
Then there’s the Battle of Alfarrobeira (May 20), which marked the defeat of the Duke of Coimbra and established the Braganzas as the power-elite in Portugal. The Braganzas are a dukedom and I’ve always liked that word, Dukedom. Ducky Dukedom. Yeah, it just makes me smile.
Or how about celebrating the Somme Battle (November 18), fought between Germany and Great Britain, Australia, Canada, France, New Zealand and South Africa? Lots of good fun fighting in that one and yet no one won. We could toast the battle in memory with a hearty “That was somme battle, wasn’t it?”
I don’t know, maybe these don’t have what it takes to catch on. I do happen to like Cinco de Mayo.
It’s a great excuse to eat stuffed jalapeños, drink Mexican beer, chow down on smothered chimichangas, drink Mexican beer, drench a few sopaipillas with a nice locally harvested honey and of course drink Mexican beer.
Anyway, Feliz Cinco de Mayo! Even if you’re French, you can appreciate the beauty and richness of the culture Mexico has given to this country. And given all the land we Americans “acquired” from Mexico (about 960,000 square miles, or 30 percent of the Continental U.S.), it’s the least we can do.