While at a festive gathering somewhere in the bowels of this burgeoning metropolis to celebrate Cinco de Mayo a few years ago with a bunch of Dominicans and NuYoRicans, a redheaded Texan I knew rather wryly observed that most Latinos that she encountered in Yankeelandia didn’t know anything about our beloved Mexican holiday. As far as she could tell, it was just another reason to throw a party. As an honorary Texan, I had to concur.
When I lived in Texas, it was the event of the year. If I could, I would spend every Cinco de Mayo in San Antonio. What a beautiful little town. Sometimes my friends and I would go to there for the day, to make sure that we ripped it up just right. There were tequila tastings, lots of Tejano music and of course there was incredible Mexican food and Tex-Mex, the likes of which cannot be found up here—and trust me, I’ve looked. More importantly, we knew why the day was important and we were extremely proud of it, even though we weren’t Mexican at all. Where did that pride come from, you ask? The mezcal?
I’d taken enough required classes on Texas history as a student while at UT to know that it was essentially an unofficial Mexican/Mexican-American July 4th holiday. No one ever tells the real story: the Mexicans collectively beat an army that hadn’t been defeated in 50 years. Not just any army—the army of Emperor Napoleon III, nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte. And the Mexican general that led the fray was a Texan! Finally, Europe was officially out of Mexico and the Mexicans were free to rule themselves. (Now why do you suppose no one in Hollywood wants to make a movie about that?) It's a really good thing the Mexicans did this, kids. Remember, this happened in 1862. While both Mexico and the US were having civil wars, the French sided with the South. (In spite of popular opinion at the moment, the French have been buddies with the US for quite some time. They helped us gain our independence from England. Y'all know who General Lafayette is, don't you?) If the French had won in Mexico, they would have sent reinforcements through Texas to help the Confederates win the Civil War. And we probably wouldn't be having this conversation.
I don't care what anyone says. As a Southerner that’s only two generations removed from slavery, Cinco De Mayo is very much my holiday.
I think it's wonderful that everyone has their Independence Day because its a cool way to introduce yourself to another culture. Of course, African-Americans in Texas have been celebrating Juneteenth as their July 4th for quite some time—another very important day that isn’t really honored with much fanfare up here. Such holidays can be a great way to unify us. In understanding the history of Cinco de Mayo and celebrating the event, we can better understand ourselves and our collective history as Americans.
There’s a push to make Juneteenth a national holiday for African-Americans. If it happens, how lovely—and if it doesn’t happen, I suppose that’ll have to be lovely too. It’s certainly not going to stop my fish fry. Why should we wait around for the powers that be to “officially” recognize and validate what we know to be ours? Heck. Let’s all take the day off on Malcolm X’s birthday, not just Martin Luther King, Jr. And Zora Neale Hurston. And Robert F. Williams, too. Why not? Pick your hero and celebrate your heritage. Make the world wonder what in the world we’re up to—and for the love of Benji, fill them in.