05 May 2010

Cinco de Mayo not what it seems

Cerveceria Cuauhtemoc Moctezuma
Here's a cinco de mayo story from 2005 that keeps being recycled by various Canadian newspapers.

By David Agren, Calgary Herald

Oswaldo Torres planned on celebrating cinco de mayo (May 5) the same way he does every year: by going to work.

"It's a holiday, but not a very big one," the Guadalajara, Mexico taco-stand manager said.

"The big day for celebrating is September 16 [Independence Day]."

While the holiday receives only tepid enthusiasm in many parts of Mexico, cinco de mayo has surged in popularity north of the border, where both Latinos and non-Latinos indulge all things Mexican, including food, drink, music and dance. It's also become a day of pride for Chicanos, surpassing holidays like Independence Day and Day of the Dead in stature.

"Cinco de mayo is a chance for Mexican-Americans to show non-Mexicans that they have strength, unity, and a strong history," said Linda Lowery, an author in San Miguel de Allende, who wrote a children's book on the holiday.

May 5 offers non-Latinos an opportunity to party too--although many simply use it as an excuse to bash piñatas, chug Corona beer and sip margaritas.

"For non-Mexicans, it's like St. Patrick's Day, a celebration and identification with Mexican culture, food, and music," Lowery explained.

"Many [people] have only a cursory understanding of the significance of cinco de mayo and the Battle of Puebla," she added. "They often mistakenly assume it's Mexican Independence Day."

Cinco de mayo commemorates the Battle of Puebla, where an out-manned and out-gunned Mexican battalion led by Ignacio Zaragoza defeated a powerful French invasion force in 1862. France eventually won the war, however, and made Maximilian emperor of Mexico. (He was later overthrown and executed).

Although May 5 marks a normal day on the calendar for most Mexicans--banks and government offices remain open, public schools usually close--poblanos (Puebla state residents) take a special pride in the event.

"It's really a regional holiday here," Lowery said.

With the growing popularity of cinco de mayo, some Latino groups have taken exception to how businesses are using the holiday. Beer importers and bars have been accused of hijacking cinco de mayo, using the holiday as a way to market Mexican suds and promote irresponsible drinking.

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