Cinco de Mayo commemorates the day when 4,000 Mexican troops (or were they Guatemalan?) successfully defeated an invading force of 6,000 French troops (or was it 8,000?) in the Battle of… umm…. I knew this!
In truth, few people know the history of Cinco de Mayo – not even Mexican Americans, much less any other brand of Latino. It turns out that the Battle of Puebla (I remember now) was actually an important turning point in both Mexican and American history: Mexico defeated a much larger European force (which it had rarely ever done), and France was denied a base of operations from which to supply the Confederate Army with funds and supplies.
But honestly, who cares about all that? (Well, I do, but I don’t count because I’m a history dweeb; I’m forced to care.) All that matters is that college frat boys from San Fran to N.Y.C. will be sporting colorful ponchos, oversized sombreros (maybe filled with chips and salsa) and fake bandito mustaches. And to that I say, “¡Órale!”
Cinco de Mayo is quickly becoming another St. Patty’s Day for much of America, a day on which Americans – not knowing the origins behind the true holiday, and with little understanding of the culture to which it pertains – dress up in green (sometimes even as leprechauns), take in a parade and then take in a pint or two (or five) of Guinness at a local pub. Everybody claims to be Irish on St. Patty’s Day – especially if you live in a town like Boston or Chicago, where everyone practically is Irish.
Should Irish Americans be offended by how the non-Irish celebrate the Emerald Isle’s most religious and patriotic holiday? Of course they should. Yet Irish Americans have come to realize these displays as a strange form of flatter, since no one can deny the Irish influence on America.
And Latinos should take notice of how far Irish Americans have come. In less than a century, the Irish went from being the most discriminated and religiously persecuted minority in the United States to being an integral part of the American fabric. I like to think that St. Patty’s Day had a lot to do with that. Maybe Cinco de Mayo can do the same for Latinos.
In that sense, Latinos of every national origin need to lay down their nationalistic pride and recognize the importance of Cinco de Mayo and its potential benefit to future generations of Latinos. But to accomplish that, Cinco de Mayo must become something of a pan-Latino celebration (which it’s not far from becoming anyway).
When most Americans think “Latino,” they think “Mexican,” and census data show that they’re not entirely wrong in doing so. Figures point out that at least 60 percent of Latinos in America are Mexican, so to some extent, Latino culture is predominately Mexican culture.
That being the case, it’s unfair of Latinos to demand that non-Latinos respect all the differences between Mexicans and Puerto Ricans, Hondurans and Guatemalans, or Argentinians and Colombians. A Latino is a Latino is a Latino – different histories, yes, but at the end of the day, just lines on a map.