Cinco de Mayo and nachos in Mexico? No, in Texas!
Another May 5th, and another day to hear from my friends in Mexico.
Most of the messages on social media go something like this: "What in the world are you guys celebrating? It was just a battle from 1862!"
I even had a friend send me a video about the truth of May 5, 1862! I replied that I know the story and that our "Cinco de Mayo" has nothing to do with Mexican history or the Battle of Puebla.
My friend is historically correct, as we see here:
On this day in 1862, a Mexican force triumphed over a much better equipped French army in a battle that took place in Puebla.
This unlikely victory remains a source of pride for Americans of Mexican descent. It is remembered every year on May 5 as a multinational holiday known as Cinco de Mayo.
The holiday has its roots in the French occupation of Mexico, which took place in the aftermath of the Mexican–American War of 1846-48 and the 1858-61 Reform War. (The Reform War was a civil war which pitted Liberals – who believed in separation of church and state and freedom of religion – against the Conservatives – who favored a tight bond between the Roman Catholic Church and the Mexican federal government.)
During my time working in Mexico, I did not recall any major celebrations or activities regarding this day. It was another battle, like the way we remember a battle from the Civil War. I do remember a young woman, the daughter of a military officer who worked in our office, who told me about the bravery of the young men who fought that day. She said they do a special remembrance on military bases to recall the ones who lost their lives.
So what does this battle from 1862 have to do with Mexican-Americans in the U.S. Southwest? The answer is nothing directly, since most people today know very little about this battle or the 1860s, when France was occupying Mexico.
So what happened? How did Cinco de Mayo bring out politicians to parades or get governors and presidents to issue statements?
My explanation for the blossoming of this day comes in two parts.
First, Cinco de Mayo has become a "Mexican heritage day." It is like St. Patrick's Day for the Irish. It is a day to celebrate your ethnic background.
Second, it has become a great day to promote beer and Mexican food, as my friend Allan Wall wrote years ago:
Cinco de Mayo is also a big beer-drinking day, with Mexican beer brands doing 5-10 percent of their U.S. sales for the occasion.
That's a lot of beer if you are in the business! I guess heritage and beer are the perfect storm, indeed!
Here in Dallas, Cinco de Mayo is a day of parades, a testament to Mexico's regional diversity. You can see it in the dresses the girls wear and the food you eat. Every section of Mexico has its own tamales, to cite one example.
So I learned about celebrating Cinco de Mayo when I moved to Texas. I also learned to love nachos, because they didn't have them down there, either. It's Tex-Mex food, as my friends in Mexico like to say!
I hope you enjoyed your Cinco de Mayo and got to eat some good Tex-Mex nachos!