Cinco de Mayo – Day of The Underdog

By: Juan Miguel Martinez

One of my favorite movies that is solely about the chicano struggle has always been “Born in East L.A”. It didn’t employ the picardia of “La corneta de mi general” (a great comedy in its own right). It wasn’t like the quick witty sketch comedy of “Al derecho y al derbez” with Eugenio Derbez. The hero, played by Cheech Marin, spoke a very niche language. He didn’t speak Spanish because he was so disconnected from Mexican culture that he had trouble identifying with any of it.

Growing up Mexican was just his reality, not something to be celebrated necessarily. The comedy is for all of us, some that speak Spanish, some that speak Spanglish and some that can only speak english. If you were raised Mexican and don’t speak Spanish, don’t worry. The Aztecs and Mayans didn’t speak it either. There is a part at the end of Born in East L.A. where he escapes la migra by coming out from under a manhole cover with the woman he met in Mexico. They interrupt a Cinco de Mayo parade. She asks him “What is Cinco de Mayo?” he responds “I don’t know but it is celebrated here every year”.  For years I cackled at that joke and joined the throngs of sneering chicanos. That’s not a real holiday, I would say. Its an excuse for white people to get drunk and exploit our culture. I will eat tacos and Margaritas any day I please. All of those things are still true. I still sneer. I only sneer at the fact that people engage in the minstrelsy of our Mexican heritage, wearing zarapes and sombreros.

Is cinco de mayo not Mexican independence day?

No, that is September 16th, everyone knows that. Do the people that celebrate Cinco de mayo know or even care? Probably not. They also probably don’t know or care that they are celebrating a holiday in which the Mexican army defeated the French in the Battle of Puebla in 1862.

Benito Juarez was elected president of Mexico in 1861 and negotiated moratorium treaties with Spain and Great Britain. He was forced to suspend foreign debt payments due to the economy being in so much distress. Spain and Great Britain withdrew, but the French were being fired up by the little man with world domination on his mind, carrying out the inherited desires of those who came before him. Seeing Mexico as weak, Napoleon III sought to create his French empire in Mexico. He mapped out an attack that started in Veracruz and moved toward Mexico City. Led by General Charles de Lorencez, It was the most sophisticated army in the world, and 8,000 men trudged toward their destiny. Puebla is the state that brought their death march to a screeching halt. Lorencez’ army had used most of their ammunition in a skirmish in Veracruz and cockily felt they could attack Puebla. The Mexican side was under the command of General Ignacio Zaragoza. Not having many weapons, making do with what they had, the army in puebla stood. Engaged in battle on the hills around Fort Guadalupe, 172 frenchmen died to 83 Mexican soldiers, causing Lorencez to retreat. It was a major boost for Mexican morale, having crushed an army twice their size which was far better equipped. There are some historians who argue that had not Mexico defeated France in this battle, France would have provided aid to the confederate states of America in the civil war, providing a much different outcome. The victory for Mexico was short lived, however, as the French attacked one year later and decisively finished another battle, coming out victorious.

That doesn’t matter to me.

Cinco de Mayo is more of a day to celebrate victory after being underestimated for so long. It is a day to celebrate the underdog. It is a day to celebrate kicking a habit when it held you down for so long. The habit is the French Army, you are the Mexican Army. Walk like that on Cinco de Mayo. Because you are 4,000 soldiers in one vessel.

What are your thoughts on Cinco De Mayo? Let us know on twitter @Milwaukeno

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